Migraine sufferers face a greater risk of heart disease and stroke

Women who have migraines are significantly more likely to have heart attacks and strokes in old age, according to a study by Harvard Medical School.

The 20-year study of 115,541 women found that those who suffered migraines — which can involve nausea, dizziness and severe pain — were 50 per cent more likely to develop major heart problems, and 62 per cent more likely to have a stroke.

The women in the study, who were between the ages of 25 and 42, had no symptoms of cardiovascular disease at the beginning of the project. By the end of the study period, 678 women had heart attacks and 651 had strokes, while 223 women died as a result of heart problems.

The researchers, writing in the British Medical Journal, said: ‘Evidence suggests that the pathophysiology of migraine can also be viewed in part as a systemic disorder affecting the endovascular system.

‘These results further add to the evidence that migraine should be considered an important risk marker for cardiovascular disease, at least in women.’

The researchers also said that more work was required to establish causality.

Instant analysis
It has long been known that migraine is associated with an increased risk of stroke, although the exact reason why this is the case remains unclear. Women are three to four times more likely to suffer from migraine than men and this study of over 100,000 women looked at evaluating the risk of cardiovascular disease and migraine in them in more detail, following them up over 20 years.

It is a strong study and so should be taken seriously. Its key finding is that there does appear to be a consistent link between migraine in women and cardiovascular disease events (such as heart attacks, strokes and angina).

The authors conclude that women with migraine now be routinely assessed for their vascular risk and, although this study does not break new ground, it does strengthen the argument for anyone with migraine to be assessed routinely for potential cardiovascular risks such as blood pressure, diabetes, obesity and smoking to name but a few.
RM
Research score: 4/5