Can Your Migraines Cause a Heart Attack?

A headache is just a headache—nothing more than a painful nuisance—right? Well maybe not. Some headaches, specifically migraines, may increase your risk of having a serious heart attack, a new study finds.

Researchers have found that men who suffer from migraines are significantly more likely to suffer from a heart attack than men who do not have migraines. This is comparable to an earlier study by the same team that found a similar link between heart attack and migraines in women.

"This does not mean that individuals with migraine headaches should panic," said Dr. Tobias Kurth, lead study author from Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, Mass. "However, individuals with migraines should be aware of proven cardiovascular risk factors such as high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol levels, smoking and obesity." That means that individuals with migraines should be extra vigilant about lowering any other risk factor they may have for cardiovascular disease.

For the study, Kurth reviewed data on over 20,000 men of an average age of 56, among whom almost 1,500 complained of migraines. The men were also asked about other risk factors that may increase their risk of heart disease.

Over the course of the study, the 1,500 men with migraines had a combined total of 2,236 major cardiovascular events, including heart attack and stroke. In fact, these men were found to have a 42 percent increased risk of having a heart attack than the men without migraines.

Kurth's previous study found that women who had migraines with an aura also had this increased risk of heart attack. An aura is a sensation of flashing lights, blurry vision or blind spots that may precede or appear along with a migraine. While the men in this study were not asked about aura symptoms, Kurth believes this link may hold true for his current study as well.

"Since this migraine and cardiovascular disease association was only apparent from migraine with aura in women," said Kurth, "this difference may be explained by the missing information on migraine aura in men."

It is unclear why a migraine may increase one's risk of cardiovascular disease, but Kurth believes that migraine may increase the risk of blood clots or particular levels of an amino acid that are both linked to heart disease risk.

"Further research is needed to understand why migraine is associated with cardiovascular disease before potential preventative strategies can be developed," said Kurth.

People who suffer from migraines, therefore, should speak with their doctors about ways they can lower their risk of heart disease. This may include improving diet to lower cholesterol levels, taking medicines to lower blood pressure, exercise and eliminating smoking.

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