Women who suffer from migraines with aura at greater risk for heart, blood clot problems

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Women who suffer from migraines with visual components like flashing lights may have a higher risk of having heart and blood vessel problems, according a study presented on Wednesday at the American Academy of Neurology's 65th Annual Meeting.

Another study presented at the same conference, which is being held in San Diego from March 16 to 23, showed that women on newer forms of hormonal contraceptives with the same migraine with aura problems may be at a higher risk for blood clots.

A migraine with aura is a migraine that comes with or is fronted by sensory signs or symptoms like flashes of light, blind spots or tingling in your hand or face, according to the Mayo Clinic. It is typically treated with the same medications as a regular migraines.

WebMD reports that migraines with aura make up less than 20 percent of all migraine. Risk factors for migraines with aura include genetics and being overweight.

The first study examined 27,860 women who were part of the Women's Health Study, including 1,435 women who had migraines with aura. Over the 15 years of the study, 1,030 cases of heart attack, stroke or death from a cardiovascular cause occurred. After having high blood pressure, migraines with aura was the second largest risk contributor to heart attacks and strokes.

"It came ahead of diabetes, current smoking, obesity, and family history of early heart disease," Dr. Tobias Kurth, fellow of the American Academy of Neurology and researcher with INSERM, the French National Institute of Health and Medical Research in Bordeaux and Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, said in a press release.

Kurth added that, though these individuals have an increased risk, it does not mean that they all will have a heart attack or stroke. In addition, women with migraine aura can decrease their risk by lowering their blood pressure, keeping their weight down and exercising.

"What is concerning about this is that migraine with aura is more of a risk than diabetes," Dr. Noah Rosen, director of the Headache Center at Cushing Neuroscience Institute at North Shore-LIJ Health System in Manhasset, N.Y., told HealthDay. "Maybe this will change the way we stratify risk based on a history of migraine."

The second study examined women who had migraines that were using newer contraceptives that combined estrogen and progestin like the patch and the ring and other older oral contraceptives. Out of the 145,304 subjects on contraceptives, 2,691 had migraines with aura and 3,437 had migraine without aura.

The researchers found that 7.6 percent of women with migraine with aura who used a newer contraceptive had deep vein thrombosis or a clot in the leg vein, compared to 6.3 percent of women who had migraines without aura. However, whether the clots occurred before or after taking the contraceptives was unclear. Blood clots were also more common in women with migraines who took contraceptives when compared to women without migraines who took contraceptives.

"Women who have migraine with aura should be sure to include this information in their medical history and talk to their doctors about the possible higher risks of newer contraceptives, given their condition," study author Dr. Shivang Joshi, a neurologist at Brigham and Women's Falkner Hospital in Boston and a member of the American Academy of Neurology, said in a press release.

Dr. Noah Rosen, neurologist, migraine specialist and director of the Headache Center at the Cushing Neuroscience Institute at the North Shore-LIJ Health System in Manhasset, N.Y. said to WebMD that the most important take away from the studies is that doctors need to identify more people with migraines so they know their risk factors.

"Only about half of people with migraines ever get diagnosed," he explained. "We now know that it is important to have a diagnosis not only for the treatment of the migraine but to understand the risk for other conditions."

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