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Men’s Health: Men’s migraines linked to heart disease

But traditional risk factors such as smoking and high blood pressure deserve more attention, researcher says

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Middle-aged men who suffer from migraine headaches may also be at increased risk for heart disease, according to Harvard researchers who recently uncovered a similar association in women.

Last summer, Dr. Tobias Kurth and his colleagues at Harvard Medical School reported that women who had migraines preceded by flashing lights or other visual disturbances had double the risk for heart attacks, strokes and other forms of cardiovascular disease compared with women who didn’t suffer migraines.

More recently, the same researchers found that migraines are associated with an increased risk for heart disease in men. But they weren’t able to determine whether this risk applies only to migraines accompanied by visual disturbances (known as aura) or to migraines in general.

In any case, says Kurth, the contribution of migraines to men’s overall heart disease risk is small. He estimated the headaches are linked with an additional two heart attacks or other major cardiovascular problems per 10,000 men per year, which is low compared with other risk factors such as smoking or high blood pressure. “Until we understand why migraine is linked with CVD events, I think physicians and patients should focus on traditional risk factors . . . and modify and treat those.”

The study involved more than 20,000 male doctors, average age 56, who were free of heart disease at the beginning of the research. After taking other risk factors into account, the researchers found that men who reported migraine had a 24 per cent increased risk for major heart disease – mainly heart attacks – compared with men who didn’t have migraines.

Risks for stroke, chest pain and death from heart attacks were not significantly elevated. “We could only speculate that we couldn’t pick up some of the risk because of that missing information (on aura),” Kurth says.