According to a new study at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, migraine sufferers are twice as likely to have heart attacks as people without migraine. The study, published in the February 10 online issue of Neurology, found that migraine sufferers also face increased risk for stroke and were more likely to have key risk factors for cardiovascular disease, including diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol.
“Migraine has been viewed as a painful condition that affects quality of life, but not as a threat to peoples' overall health,” said lead investigator Richard B. Lipton, M.D., senior author of the study and professor in the Department of Neurology at Einstein. Lipton directs the Headache Center at Montefiore Medical Center, the University Hospital and Academic Medical Center for Einstein.
“Our study suggests that migraine is not an isolated disorder and that, when caring for people with migraine, we should also be attentive to detecting and treating their cardiovascular risk factors,” he told the press.
More than 29 million Americans suffer from migraine, according to the National Headache Foundation. There are two major forms, migraine without aura and migraine with aura. Both forms involve pulsing or throbbing pain, pain on one side of the head, nausea or vomiting, or sensitivity to light or sound. Migraine with aura has additional neurological symptoms including flashing lights, zig-zag lines, or a graying out of vision. Migraine is most common between the ages of 25 and 55; women are affected three times more frequently than men.
Previous research has shown that migraine with aura is associated with heart disease and stroke, particularly in health care professionals over the age of 45. The Einstein study, however, showed that both migraine with aura and migraine without aura are risk factors for heart disease and stroke in people from all walks of life between the ages of 18 and 80.
The data also shows that people with migraine were about 50 percent more likely than controls to have diabetes, hypertension, and elevated cholesterol, all well-known cardiovascular risk factors. The study found that these risk factors may contribute to – but do not fully explain – the increased risk of heart attack and stroke in persons with migraine.
“Migraine sufferers should not be alarmed by our findings,” said Dr. Lipton. “While we found an increased risk for cardiovascular problems, the percentage of people actually affected remains small.”