Harvard Heart Letter

Migraines linked to higher risk of heart disease in women

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Women who suffer from migraines are more prone to heart attacks and strokes than those who don't get the crippling headaches, a study in the May 31, 2016, BMJ suggests.

The findings come from the Harvard Nurses' Health Study II, which tracked more than 115,000 women ages 25 to 42 for more than two decades. About 15% of the women said they had migraines at the start of the study. Compared with women who had no history of migraine, those who did were about 40% more likely to have a heart attack and 60% more likely to have a stroke during the study period. Researchers accounted for age, high blood pressure, hormone use, and other factors that might skew the results.

Earlier studies have also shown a higher risk of stroke among women who get migraines. But experts haven't discovered any clear mechanism to explain the connection between migraine and cardiovascular disease. And whether migraine prevention strategies can lower the risk of heart attacks or strokes is unknown.