Migraines in women could be linked to heart disease

June 6, 2016 Providence Health Team

A 20-year study suggests that women who suffer migraines are 50 percent more likely to develop cardiovascular disease than those without the incapacitating headaches.

For their work, researchers from Germany, Harvard and Washington University followed 115,541 women in the Nurses’ Health Study, a pool of women that over the years has been used for many research projects on women’s health, and continues today. When the migraine study began in 1989, 17,531 women said they had a migraine diagnosis from a doctor. Another 6,389 reported a diagnosis over the next 20 years.

The women diagnosed with migraines were more likely to:

  • Have high blood pressure
  • Have high cholesterol
  • Come from a family with a history of heart attacks
  • Smoke
  • Be overweight

After accounting for factors that put women at risk of heart disease, the scientists found that migraines raised the chance of cardiovascular disease by 50 percent.

They said they aren’t sure whether treating migraines would lower the risk of cardiovascular disease and suggested more research needs to be done. You can read more about the study here.

Causes of a migraine

In the U.S., nearly 38 million people suffer from the headaches, including:

  • 18 percent of women
  • 6 percent of men
  • 10 percent of children

According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, many things can trigger a migraine. Among the more common triggers:

  • Anxiety
  • Stress
  • Lack of food or sleep
  • Exposure to light
  • Hormonal changes in women

More than just a headache

The Migraine Research Foundation says these debilitating headaches:

  • Usually occur on one side of the head. In about one-third of cases, people feel throbbing pain on both sides.
  • Come with temporary vision problems, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, extreme sensitivity to sound, light, touch and smell, and tingling in the hands, feet or face.
  • Can last anywhere between four and 72 hours.

What to do if you get a migraine

While there is no known cure for a migraine, some people have been able to stave off the headaches or reduce their severity by:

  • Lowering stress with exercise and relaxation techniques
  • Creating a journal about headache triggers and adjusting their lifestyle or behavior accordingly
  • Lying down in a quiet dark room, if they do get a migraine
  • Putting a cold compress over the eyes

To find out more about migraines and prevention strategies, talk with your health care provider. You can find a Providence provider here.

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