WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Men who suffer migraine headaches have a higher risk of heart disease, particularly heart attacks, according to a study published on Monday.
The researchers found a 24 percent increased risk for overall cardiovascular disease in men who experienced migraines compared to those who did not, including a 42 percent increased risk for heart attacks.
The study, published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, follows similar findings among women.
Dr. Tobias Kurth of Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston and colleagues tracked 20,084 men aged 40 to 84 who had no history of heart disease from the early 1980s through 2005. About 7 percent of the men reported having migraines.
Kurth said it is unclear what it is about migraines that is increasing the risk.
“The honest answer is: it’s unknown,” Kurth said. But he noted that people who have migraines tend to have more cardiovascular risk factors such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol.
“At this point, it’s far too early to really say that migraine directly is causing cardiovascular disease,” Kurth said in a telephone interview.
Migraines, a particularly painful kind of recurring headache, often are marked by dizziness, nausea, vomiting or extreme sensitivity to light and sound. Women are three times more likely than men to get migraines.
This study focused on men with migraines. The same researchers last year published a study tracking nearly 28,000 women that showed those who had migraines were more likely to develop cardiovascular disease as well.
Kurth said that, relatively speaking, migraines are associated with perhaps a moderate increase in risk for cardiovascular disease, particularly compared to traditional factors like high blood pressure, smoking, obesity and elevated cholesterol.
People who get migraines should be mindful of these risk factors, he said.
“So if you still smoke, stop smoking. Treat hypertension if you have high blood pressure. Lower your cholesterol. Evaluate your diet. Maintain a lean body weight. Those are things that one can actively do,” Kurth said.
The researchers said overweight people tend to have more frequent and severe migraines along with a higher risk of heart disease. They also said it is possible migraines are an indicator for a buildup of plaque in the arteries.
But they said the increased risk for cardiovascular disease that they observed remained even after they accounted for known major risk factors in the men involved in the study.
In the United States alone, the researchers wrote, more than 28 million people get migraines, including about 18 percent of women and 6 percent of men.