Some Migraines Linked to Heart Attack, Blood Clots

Some Migraines Linked to Heart Attack, Blood Clots

woman with a migraine

Jan. 15, 2013 — Women who have migraine with aura may have a higher risk of heart attacks, and they may face a higher risk of dangerous blood clots if they use certain hormonal contraceptives.

Those are the findings from two newly published studies to be presented in March at the 65th annual meeting of the American Academy of Neurology in San Diego.

Migraine with aura refers to migraine headaches that are preceded by visual or other sensory symptoms such as flashing lights, blind spots, smell distortion, numbness, or tingling of the hands and face.

About 1 in 4 people with migraines have this type of migraine.

Migraine With Aura Linked to Heart Attack

In the first study, having migraine with aura, but not regular migraines, was a risk factor for heart attacks among middle-aged and older women.

The analysis included data on close to 28,000 women enrolled in the ongoing Women’s Health Study.

During 15 years of follow-up, about 1,400 women who had migraine with aura were identified, and there were 1,030 heart attacks, strokes, or deaths from cardiovascular causes.

After having high blood pressure, having migraine with aura was found to be the second strongest contributor to heart attack and stroke risk, according to researcher Tobias Kurth, MD, of Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston and the French National Institute of Health.

Migraine with aura was found in the study to be a bigger risk factor for these cardiovascular conditions than having a family history of early heart disease or having diabetes or being obese or a smoker.

“We have known that migraine with aura is associated with cardiovascular risk,” neurologist and migraine specialist Noah Rosen, MD, says. “What is striking about this study is that it shows just how big this risk is.”

Rosen directs the Headache Center at the Cushing Neuroscience Institute, of the North Shore-LIJ Health System in Manhasset, N.Y.

Migraines Raised Blood Clot Risk

In the second study, women with migraines who used combined hormonal contraceptives had a higher risk for dangerous deep vein blood clots, and the risk was highest in women with migraine with aura. Combined hormonal contraceptives contain both estrogen and progestin.

While there was a suggestion that newer-generation combined hormonal contraceptives might carry a greater risk for blood clots, researcher Shivang Joshi, MD, of Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Faulkner Hospital, says the difference among users of newer- and older-generation hormonal contraceptives was not that great.

Joshi and colleagues examined the impact of migraine type and combined hormonal contraception type on blood clot risk using data from a health insurance registry that included women enrolled between 2001 and 2012.

The researchers identified around 145,000 women who used combined hormonal contraceptives, including 2,691 who had migraines with aura and 3,437 who had migraines without aura.

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