STANFORD, Calif. — Migraines are linked to an increased risk of suffering cardiovascular conditions like heart attacks, strokes, or blood clots, finds a new study by an international team of researchers.
It’s estimated that about one billion people worldwide suffer or have suffered from migraines. Previous studies have shown tenuous links between migraine headaches and cardiovascular events like heart attack and stroke, especially in women, but the links between migraines and other heart problems, like irregular heartbeat and blood clots, were not clearly established.
Researchers from Stanford University and Aarhus University Hospital in Denmark measured and compared the risk of cardiovascular ailments in 51,000 people who experience migraine headaches against 510,000 people who don’t. The data was pulled from individuals who took part in the Danish National Patient Registry from 1995 through 2013.
The team confirmed that in addition to heart attacks and strokes, migraines were positively associated with suffering an irregular heartbeat and blood clots. Even when taking into account factors like body mass index and smoking, the associations persisted.
Researchers calculated that for every 1,000 patients, 25 who battled migraines had suffered a heart attack, as opposed to just 17 migraine-free patients. Similarly, 45 patients with migraine headaches experienced blood clots in the brain (ischaemic stroke), versus 25 who didn’t.
While the numbers show positive associations, the researchers warn that this was an observational study, and no firm conclusions can be drawn about causes and effects.
“Migraine should be considered a potent and persistent risk factor for most cardiovascular diseases in both men and women,” the authors conclude. “Ultimately, it will be important to determine whether prevention strategies in patients with migraine can reduce the burden of cardiovascular disease.”
The full study was recently published in the British Medical Journal.