Migraine With Aura and Your Heart

Migraine with aura is linked to heart attack and blood clots in women

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Chris Galloway, M.D.

(RxWiki News) Having a migraine is headache enough without having to worry about cardiovascular disease. For those who experience migraine with aura, it may be important to consider the health of your heart.

Two different studies recently conducted addressed the link between migraines with aura and other medical conditions. The studies suggested that women who have migraines with aura are more likely to have heart problems. Those on contraceptives who had migraines with aura were at a higher risk for blood clots.

"Discuss ways to improve your cardiovascular health with a doctor."

People who experience migraine with aura have intense and painful headaches usually preceded by visual disruptions.

Sarah Samaan, MD, a cardiologist with Legacy Heart Center and co-director of the Women’s Cardiovascular Institute at the Baylor Heart Hospital described auras to dailyRx as a sensation of flashing or zig-zagging lights. She added that auras could also include an unusual sensation on the skin, muscle weakness, or even hallucinations.

The study relating migraine with aura to heart problems was conducted by Tobias Kurth, MD, and colleagues. The writers had affiliations with INSERM, the French National Institute of Health and the Medical Research in Bordeaux and Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.

The study included 27,860 women over the age of 45. Of the study population, 3,695 had migraines only and 1,435 had migraines with aura. All women were free of cardiovascular disease (CVD) at the beginning of the study.

The women were tracked for 15 years to evaluate any link between migraine with aura and CVD. During this time, there were 1,030 major CVD events, such as heart attack, stroke or death.

After high blood pressure, migraine with aura was the biggest predictor of heart attacks and strokes. The next biggest predictors were diabetes, family history of CVD, smoking and obesity.

The study authors warned that while those who have migraine with aura had an increased risk of heart problems, migraine with aura did not guarantee the development of CVD.

Dr. Kurth suggested patients minimize their chance of developing CVD by reducing other risk factors. Dr. Samaan recommended developing a healthy lifestyle, exercising regularly, choosing a Mediterranean diet, and not smoking to decrease CVD risk and increase heart health.

The second study related migraine with aura to combined hormonal contraceptives (CHC). CHCs are birth control methods that contain both estrogen and progestin. Examples of CHCs are the contraceptive patch, ring and pills.

Shivang Joshi, MD, of Brigham and Women’s Falkner Hospital in Boston, and colleagues investigated databases containing two million women. Of these two million women, 145,304 were on CHCs. Migraine with aura was experienced by 2,691 women and 3,437 had migraine without aura.

Women on CHCs who experienced migraine with aura were more likely to experience blood clot problems than those who had migraines without aura. The combination of migraines and contraceptives also carried a higher risk of blood clots than contraceptive use alone.

A greater risk was seen in newer contraceptives.

Dr. Samaan recommended that women who experience any type of migraine be careful when choosing a method of birth control. "It's important that women with migraines discuss all the options with their OB/GYN or primary care physician," said Dr. Samaan..

Dr. Kurth’s study was funded by the National Institutes of Health. Dr. Joshi’s study was funded by the Graham Headache Center Research Fund.

The preliminary findings in both studies will be presented at the American Academy of Neurology’s 65th Annual Meeting in San Diego in March.

Dr. Kurth is a Fellow of the American Academy of Neurology. No other conflicts of interest were reported.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
January 15, 2013
Last Updated:
January 22, 2013