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Pregnancy migraines may indicate heart risk

Wed March 11th, 2009

Migraines during pregnancy may be linked to stroke and heart disease, researchers said today.

They have been associated with stroke in a previous study, however the link is not yet confirmed, say Dr Cheryl Bushnell of Wake Forest University Health Sciences, North Carolina, USA, and colleagues.

The findings suggest development of migraine in pregnancy may indicate underlying poor health.

According to the researchers, one possible explanation is that pregnancy, when the heart rate increases, may put extra stress on the circulation.

The researchers analysed 18,345,538 hospital admissions from national records. From this they identified 33,956 cases of migraine.

These women had a significantly increased chance of stroke (15 times higher), heart attack or heart disease (double the risk) and a blood clot in the lungs or veins (three times the risk). They also faced a doubled risk of developing diabetes or pre-eclampsia.

On the website of the British Medical Journal, the team say "these data do not allow determination of which came first, migraine or the vascular condition", so "prospective studies of pregnant women are needed to explore this association further".

Women over the age of 40 years were 2.4 times more likely to be admitted to hospital with migraine than women under 20, the researchers found. White women were at higher risk than any other race or ethnicity.

The authors say that when pre-eclampsia was removed from the analysis, the link remained significant. "Although cause and effect still need to be established, active migraine during pregnancy could be viewed as a marker of vascular diseases, especially ischaemic stroke," they write.

Bushnell, C. D., Jamison, M. and James, A. H. Migraines during pregnancy linked to stroke and vascular diseases: US population based case-control study. The British Medical Journal, 2009;338:b664.

Tags: Women’s Health & Gynaecology | Childbirth and Pregnancy | Heart Health | Diabetes | North America

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