People who suffer from migraine headaches tend to show a higher incidence of ischemic stroke (blockage of a blood vessel) than the general population. The correlation is particularly strong in young women who experience an “aura”—a disturbance of vision or other senses—just before or during the migraine. However, say researchers Lenore Launer and her co-authors in the February 22 issue of Neurology, “Why migraine with aura might increase the risk of early-onset ischemic stroke is presently unknown.”
The research team led by Launer, an epidemiologist at the U.S. National Institute on Aging, worked with researchers from the Netherlands National Institute of Public Health and the Environment to compare the medical profiles of 620 people with migraine to those of 5,135 migraine-free control subjects. The migraineurs scored higher than the control group on several cardiovascular risk factors. Smoking and a parental history of early heart attack were more common among people with migraine; in addition, high blood pressure and poor cholesterol levels were more common in those who had migraine with aura. The finding that migraineurs were more likely to have parents with early heart disease raises the possibility of a shared predisposition that makes some people more susceptible both to cardiovascular disease (including stroke) and to migraine headaches.