Men who suffer from migraine headaches appear to be at an increased risk for
cardiovascular disease, mostly due to a higher risk of having a heart attack,
But the advice to
men with or without migraines is the same, experts say: Pay attention to heart
risk factors such as elevated blood pressure and cholesterol.
“Migraine has been
associated with major risk factors for cardiovascular disease such as
hypertension and elevated cholesterol, so patients with migraine should focus on
traditional risk factors until we understand why migraine is linked with
cardiovascular disease,” said study author Dr. Tobias Kurth, an assistant
professor of medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical
School, both in Boston.
Kurth presented his
findings Wednesday at the annual meeting of the American Heart Association
(AHA), in Chicago.
“Migraine is not so
much a risk factor, but a sort of risk marker,” added Dr. Gerald Fletcher, AHA
spokesman and a professor of medicine at the Mayo Clinic College of Medicine in
Jacksonville, Fla. “This should alert physicians and the public that this could
be a problem.”
This is only the
second study to find a correlation between migraine and heart disease. Previous
research by the same team of investigators found an association in women who
experienced migraines with “aura,” or visual disturbances preceding the
This time, the
researchers followed more than 20,000 men participating in the Physicians’
Health Study, all of whom were free of heart disease at the beginning of the
Over the next 15.7
years, 7.2 percent of participants reported having migraines.
Compared with men
who did not report migraines, migraine sufferers had a 42 percent increased risk
of heart attack, the study found. This was similar to the relative risk found in
the study of women.
Overall, men with
migraines were at 24 percent increased risk of major cardiovascular events, with
heart attacks being the leading reported problem.
into an additional risk of two major events per 10,000 men per year,” Kurth
said. “The absolute risk increase is rather on the low side.”
Men with migraine
had a 12 percent increased risk of ischemic stroke and a 7 percent increased
risk of cardiovascular death. However, the authors said neither figure was
statistically significant, meaning it could have occurred by
Also, the average
age of the participants was 56, so the findings cannot be extrapolated to
younger men. In general, migraines occur more frequently among younger
The researchers had
no information on migraine aura in these men, so it’s unclear if the findings
are restricted to that type of migraine or not.
“We don’t know what
the possible mechanisms are,” Kurth said. “Migraine is associated with other
risk factors such as hypertension and cholesterol, and there is an association
between migraine and inflammatory markers. Whether these factors really cause
the association is unknown at this point.”
“Until we know more, the things that should be considered are major
[heart] risk factors,” he continued. “If you have this marker for increased risk
and you have other risk factors, those should be modified and treated.”