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Deadly toll of migraine

Wednesday August 25th, 2010

People who suffer migraines involving visual disturbances face an increased risk of death from heart disease or stroke, researchers warned today.

Several recent studies have suggested that migraine with aura (temporary visual or sensory disturbances before or during a migraine headache), is a risk factor for heart disease.

So Larus Gudmundsson and his team at the University of Iceland, investigated the impact on death rates.

British experts said the findings showed that people with migraines need to adopt "healthy" lifestyles - and to be aware of the risk of suffering heart attack or stroke.

The researchers estimated the risk of death from heart disease and all causes among people with migraine in mid-life, using figures from the Reykjavik Study of 18,725 men and women born in 1907-35 and followed for a mean of 26 years.

Results are published on the website of the British Medical Journal.

People with migraine with aura were found to be at a 21 per cent increased risk of death from all causes, and a 27 per cent raised risk of death from coronary heart disease or stroke. Those with migraine without aura, or non-migraine headache, were not at an increased risk.

The authors conclude: "Migraine with aura is an independent risk factor for cardiovascular and all cause mortality in men and women." But they add that the individual risk faced by migraine sufferers is low and may be reduced by concentrating on the usual risk factors.

Judy O'Sullivan, a nurse specialist at the British Heart Foundation, said: "Like everyone else, those affected should be vigilant when it comes to spotting signs of a heart attack, and should call 999 for an ambulance immediately if they?re worried.

"They should also reduce their risk of heart disease in the future by avoiding smoking, regularly exercising and eating a balanced diet."

* A further study in the journal, based on 27,860 women, suggests the risk of haemorrhagic stroke - caused by bleeding in the brain - is more than doubled among those with migraine with aura. Dr Tobias Kurth of the hospital de la Pitie-Salpetriere in Paris, France, says this finding needs confirmation.

In an editorial, Dr Klaus Berger of the University of Muenster, Germany, says the results are still conflicting. "For many people, the information will cause an unwarranted amount of anxiety," he writes.

Gudmundsson, L. S. et al. Migraine with aura and risk of cardiovascular and all cause mortality in men and women: prospective cohort study. The British Medical Journal, 2010;341:c3966.

Kurth, T. et al. Migraine and risk of haemorrhagic stroke in women: prospective cohort study. The British Medical Journal, 2010;341:c3659.

Berger, K. and Evers, S. Migraine with aura and the risk of increased mortality. The British Medical Journal, 2010;341:c4410.

Tags: Brain & Neurology | Europe | Heart Health | UK News

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