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Female migraine sufferers exhibit increased risk for heart disease and stroke, study finds


(NaturalNews) Women who suffer from migraines may be more likely to die from heart attacks and strokes, according to a study conducted by researchers from the Institute of Public Health at Charite-Universitatsmedizin in Berlin, Germany, and published in the journal The BMJ.

"Migraine should be considered a marker for increased risk of cardiovascular disease, at least in women," lead researcher Dr. Tobias Kurth said.

An estimated 25 million people suffer from migraines in the United States, and 70 percent of them are women. Researchers still don't understand what causes some people to suffer from migraines, or what the biological processes are that underlie migraine attacks.

Fifty percent increased risk

In the new study, researchers reviewed information on more than 116,000 women who participated in the Nurses Health Study II between 1989 and 2011. At the beginning of the study, all the women were between the ages of 25 and 42, and had no history of heart disease. Fifteen percent of them suffered from migraines.

The researchers found that the women who suffered from migraines were 50 percent more likely to undergo a heart attack, stroke, or surgery to open blocked cardiac arteries, than women who did not get migraines. More specifically, they were 39 percent more likely to have a heart attack, 62 percent more likely to have a stroke, 73 percent more likely to have cardiac surgery and 37 percent more likely to die from heart attack or stroke, compared with migraine-free women, even after researchers controlled for potential confounding factors including age, high blood pressure, smoking and oral contraceptive use.

Although the study was conducted only on women, the increased risk may apply to men as well the researchers noted.

"We have no reason to believe that this is limited to women," Kurth said.

Identify your headaches correctly

The study provides strong evidence that people with migraines are in a higher cardiovascular risk category.

"Physicians should be aware of the association between migraine and cardiovascular disease, and women with migraine should be evaluated for their risk," Kurth said.

The increased risk associated with migraines may not be enough to affect individual women who have low cardiovascular risk due to healthy lifestyle factors such as eating a good diet, exercising regularly and not smoking.

"But because migraine is so common, that small increase in risk may be much more meaningful when we consider the population as a whole," said neurology instructor Dr. Rebecca Burch of Harvard Medical School, who wrote an editorial to accompany the study.

"We can add migraine to the list of known risk factors for heart disease, which can be challenging because migraine tends to occur earlier in life and cardiovascular disease tends to show up later in life," Burch said.

The findings add to the importance of making sure that, if you suffer from chronic headaches, you identify the cause properly. Many people misdiagnose themselves with migraines when they actually suffer from tension headaches; exertion headaches; headaches caused by dehydration, low blood sugar or lack of sleep; or headaches due to other health problems.

Unlike these other forms of headache, migraines are typically characterized by at least two or three of the following symptoms: moderate to severe pain; pain is throbbing or penetrating; pain only on one side of the head; pain that may last for hours or even days; nausea; diarrhea; dizziness; vomiting; sweats; chills; slurred speech; tingling or numbness in face or arm; weak arms or legs; difficulty thinking straight; sensitivity to light or sound; double vision; flashing lights or other visual disturbances before onset of headache.

If you do suffer from migraines, the study suggests extra caution if you have any other cardiovascular risk factors.

"It is important to make sure we are evaluating cardiovascular risk among women with migraine and doing what we know helps to reduce that risk, like advising regular exercise and managing blood pressure," Burch said.

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