Migraines and Heart Disease: Everything Migraineurs Need to Know About Their Heart Health
About 37 million Americans have migraines, most of whom are women, and almost half of Americans have risk factors for heart disease. But, is there a connection between the two conditions? In a 2016 study, researchers found that migraines, especially migraines with aura, put you at increased risk of heart disease and stroke
In this post, I’m going to review some of the facts about migraines and heart disease, how they’re linked, and what most migraineurs can do to reduce their risk of heart disease.
The Link Between Migraines and Heart Disease
There is overwhelming evidence that migraines are linked to heart disease and stroke, so I find it prudent to educate patients about heart disease as it related to their migraine condition.
Let’s have a look at a few facts about migraines and heart disease:
- A 2015 study looked at genetic links between migraines and heart disease, but no shared genes were found, and there were 159,000 participants.
- People who have migraines with aura are at higher risk of heart disease than migraineurs without aura
- Migraines feel like strokes and strokes feel like migraines, so by the time you realize what the issue is, it may be too late
- Migraines can cause a stroke in mid-attack (migrainous infarction), and a stroke can lead to migraines
- Strokes are more common in migraineurs than in those without the condition
- Women with migraines are three times more likely to have a stroke than women without migraine
- Estrogen-containing contraceptives put women at higher risk of heart disease, and may also be a migraine trigger
Migraines with Aura and Heart Disease
In the study mentioned above, researchers used four methods to find linked genes between the two conditions. Evidence showed that migraineurs with aura are at higher risk of heart disease, but there was no genetic correlation.
Migraines with aura come with a variety of sensory symptoms, including:
- Physical: weakness, tingling in the extremities, dizziness, numbness in the face, partial paralysis
- Mental: confusion and cognitive impairment
- Sight: spots, partial blindness, flashing lights, light streaks or flashes, blindness in one eye
- Sound: auditory hallucinations
- Touch: reduced sensation or hypersensitivity to touch
- Speech: difficulty speaking or finding words
- Smell: olfactory hallucinations
Interestingly, scientists did find some genetic links to heart disease and migraines without aura. What’s interesting is that these genes have defense mechanisms against heart disease, which may explain why they are less likely to have heart disease than those with aura.
How to Lower Your Risk of Heart Disease
There are plenty of factors that put you at risk of heart disease, even if you don’t have migraines.The top three risk factors for heart disease include:
- High cholesterol
- High blood pressure
There are lifestyle behaviors and medical conditions that have been scientifically linked to heart disease as well, including:
- Poor diet
- Overuse of alcohol
Add to this that heart disease is the leading cause of death in women and men (1 in 4 will die of heart disease); therefore, it’s essential for migraineurs, especially if you experience aura, to find ways to reduce the risk of heart disease. Here are some tips to help you get there:
- Change your diet to eat fresher, healthier food
- Exercise regularly. If rigorous exercise exacerbates migraines, try milder forms of exercise.
- Quit smoking
- Regulate your sleep so that you get the proper amount each night. Read more about sleep deprivation and migraines
- Avoid contraceptives with estrogen
There is always hope. I know this information might be a little frightening for some because heart disease is a sneaky and often silent disease that can turn fatal at the without any warning. It’s important to take the proper steps to ensure your body is working to its highest potential. Keep learning. Keep working. Keep Living.
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