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17th January 2013

Link between migraine and risk of heart attack and stroke

Two studies, suggesting women who have migraine with aura may be more likely to have problems with their heart and blood vessels and those on newer contraceptives may be at higher risk for blood clots, will be presented at the American Academy of Neurology’s 65th Annual Meeting in San Diego in March 2013.  

The first study found that migraine with aura is a strong contributor to the risk of development of major cardiovascular events such as heart attack and stroke.  Study author, Dr Tobias Kurth, said “After high blood pressure, migraine with aura was the second strongest single contributor to risk of heart attacks and strokes.  It came ahead of diabetes, current smoking, obesity, and family history of early heart disease”.  Dr Kurth cautioned that while people with migraine with aura have an increased risk, it does not mean that everyone with migraine with aura will have a heart attack or stroke.

The second study looked at women with migraine who use hormonal contraceptives and the occurrence of blood clots.  Women with migraine with aura were more likely to have experienced blood clot complications with all types of contraceptives than women with migraine without aura.  The occurrence of blood clot complications was also higher in women with migraine who took contraceptives than women taking the contraceptives who did not have migraine.

This news was included in the Telegraph on 16 January and 21 January 2013.

Professor Peter Goadsby, a trustee of The Migraine Trust, provided this comment regarding the research:

"New research to be presented at the upcoming meeting of the American Academy of Neurology show a small relationship between migraine with aura and other known risks of heart disease, when present together. The results reinforce the need for migraine patients to have a clear diagnosis, since those without aura have no risk. They highlight the importance for those with aura to be monitored by their GP for risks for heart problems, such as blood pressure and diabetes."

The World Health Organisation recommends women who have migraine with aura should avoid the combined hormonal contraceptive, using instead a progestogen-only form of contraception.  It is important to consult your doctor before making any changes to your medication.

Anyone concerned about the risk of cardiovascular events can reduce their risk by not smoking, exercising regularly, eating a healthy diet, and maintaining healthy blood pressure and weight.

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