Women with migraine have higher risk of heart attack, stroke and A-fib

Study shows increased risk factor for heart and vascular conditions

A study published in the British Medical Journal earlier this year supports findings that previous studies have shown: Migraine may increase a person’s risk for heart attack, stroke and other forms of heart disease.

Previous studies have shown that women, in particular, who get migraine headaches have a higher risk of heart disease and stroke. Brian M. Plato, D.O., headache specialist with Norton Neuroscience Institute, points out that the biggest risk may be tied to women who get migraine with aura, rather than migraine without aura.

This study looked at the link between migraine and specific types of heart and vascular conditions.

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Compared with people who do not get migraine headaches, the study showed people who get them were more likely to have a heart attack, stroke or atrial fibrillation (A-fib) over 19 years of follow-up care. The research showed:

  • 25 in every 1,000 people with migraine had a heart attack, compared with 17 in every 1,000 people without migraine.
  • 45 out of 1,000 had an ischemic stroke (stroke caused by a blood clot in the brain) compared with 25 in every 1,000 people without migraine.
  • A-fib occurred in 47 of every 1,000 people with migraine, compared with 34 in every 1,000 people without migraine.
  • Heart failure was similar in both groups

The results did not change after accounting for factors that could increase risk, such as smoking and body mass index (BMI).

Women at greatest risk

In the U.S., 85 percent of people who experience chronic migraine are women. Women with migraine, especially migraine with aura, were found to have the greatest risks for stroke, heart attack and A-fib. The risk was highest in the first year after a migraine diagnosis. Women with migraine have:

  • About a 39 percent higher risk of heart attack
  • 62 percent higher risk of stroke
  • 73 percent higher risk of needing heart surgery

I get migraine headaches. What can I do to lower my risk?

  • Stop smoking. If you smoke, quitting is one of the most important things you can do to lower your risk. Smoking can cause heart disease and decrease oxygen to the heart.
  • Exercise. Getting physical activity every day, such as walking, can help you stay healthy. However, for some people, exercise can be a migraine trigger. Talk with your doctor about what level of activity is right for you.
  • Eat healthy. Eat a balanced diet, including whole foods, such as fruits and vegetables; fiber from whole grains; and lean proteins, such as fish and beans. Lowering the amount of red meat and avoiding fast food, salt and trans fats can help as well.
  • Reduce stress. Try lowering your stress in healthy ways, such as mindfulness, breathing exercises and getting a full 8 hours of sleep. It also can be as easy as calling or visiting with a friend and sharing some laughs.

“Having a diagnosis of migraine with aura is a good reminder to take a look at other modifiable risk factors, such as blood pressure, smoking and cholesterol, and make modifications or more aggressively manage them,” Dr. Plato said.

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