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Migraines Up Women's Stroke, Heart Risks

How often a woman has a migraine may play a role in
determining her risk for strokes and heart attacks.

Medical evidence has long supported a link between migraines and vascular
problems, including strokes, but information regarding migraine frequency and
such events has been lacking. 

New research presented this week at the American Academy of Neurology's 60th
Anniversary Annual Meeting in Chicago suggests that women who have weekly
migraines have a significantly higher risk for stroke than those who get the headaches less frequently. Those who have infrequent
migraines may be more likely to have a heart
attack .

The findings are based on the Women's Health Study, which involved 27,798
women health professionals 45 years and older who did not have cardiovascular
disease at the beginning of the study. Cholesterol levels and details about migraine frequency
were obtained when the study began.

Researchers grouped migraine frequency into three categories: less than
monthly, monthly, or one or more a week. Sixty-five percent said they had a
migraine less than once a month, 30% had a monthly migraine, and 5% had
migraines at least once a week.

The researchers included Tobias Kurth, MD, ScD, of Brigham and Women's
Hospital and Harvard Medical School in Boston.

Kurth's team followed the women for 12 years, documenting the number of
cardiovascular events. The following occurred during the study
period: 


  • 305 heart attacks

  • 310 ischemic strokes

  • 706 cardiovascular events


Women experiencing frequent migraines were at highest risk:


  • Women who had migraines once per week or more were nearly three times more
    likely to have an ischemic stroke and one and a half times more likely to
    experience a heart attack as women without migraines.

  • Women who had infrequent migraines (less than one a month) were one and a
    half times more likely to have a heart attack or stroke. 

  • Women with monthly migraines were not at increased risk.


"Our results may indicate that the mechanisms by which migraine
associates with specific cardiovascular events may differ," Kurth says in a
news release. "Future studies are needed to address whether migraine
prevention reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease."

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, about three
out of four people who get migraines are women.


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By Kelli Stacy
Reviewed by Elizabeth Klodas
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