Migraines and Cardiovascular Disease in Women

Migraines May Increase Your Risk of Heart Attack and Stroke

The Link Between Migraines and Heart Disease
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If you are a woman and you suffer from migraines, you may be at an increased risk of developing cardiovascular disease, according to a recent study.

In a 2016 study in BMJ, over 115,000 women were followed for more than 20 years with over 17,000 women reporting a migraine diagnosis. Compared to the women without migraines, the women with migraines were more likely to have cardiovascular risk factors—these are characteristics that give women a higher chance of having a heart attack or stroke. These factors included:

  • high blood pressure
  • high cholesterol levels
  • current smokers
  • family history of heart attacks
  • obesity

The study also found that women with migraines had an increased risk (by 50 percent) of having a cardiovascular event, like a heart attack or stroke. Although the overall risk is still small, it's significant when looking at the population of female migraineurs.

The study did not differentiate between women with migraines with auras and women without migraines with auras.

Why Does This Link Exist?

This is a great question, and many scientists are still scratching their heads, as the connection is likely complex. It is possible that the blood vessels of migraineurs have some sort of vulnerability that influences both the development of migraines and cardiovascular disease.

Inflammation may also play a role in this connection. In fact, in one 2015 study in the Annals of Neurology, the combination of a statin and vitamin D (which may have anti-inflammatory effects) were found to prevent migraines—and we know that statins benefit a person's cardiovascular risk by lowering cholesterol. The big picture here is that a connection or an association does not mean that one causes the other. Instead, there is simply a link, and potentially one or more shared mediators.

What Does This Mean for Me?

Experts don't know if preventing migraines may lower a woman's risk of developing cardiovascular disease—only that migraines pose an additional cardiovascular risk to women.

This cardiovascular risk is especially a concern for women as they get older. This is because as women approach menopause and midlife, their risk for cardiovascular disease increases. This is a result of the natural aging process and probably the decline in estrogen that women experience as their ovaries fail, and they stop menstruating.

Right now if a woman has migraines, there are no guidelines suggesting that her doctor should implement heart and stroke preventive measures, like aspirin therapy (based on the presence of migraines alone). There is also no scientific data supporting the use of a migraine preventive medication in preventing another stroke in a migraineur with a history of stroke. 

That being said, if you have migraines, it may be a reminder to your doctor to go ahead and check for other cardiovascular risk factors (which should be done anyway) like a history of smoking, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or a family history of heart attacks or strokes.

The Bottom Line

Cardiovascular disease is a leading concern for women as they approach midlife, whether or not a woman suffers from migraines—but having migraines may pose an additional risk. Understanding what is causing this link between migraines and cardiovascular disease needs to be determined.

Be good to your brain, heart, and blood vessels by maintaining a normal weight, quitting smoking, eating a healthy diet, and exercising regularly.

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