Women diagnosed with migraine have a slightly increased risk of developing and dying from cardiovascular disease, according to findings of a large study of nurses.
Researchers said that, as a result of their findings, migraine should be considered an important risk marker for cardiovascular disease.
“These results further add to the evidence that migraine should be considered an important risk marker”
They noted that migraine has been consistently linked with an increased risk of stroke, but few previous studies have shown an association of migraine with cardiovascular diseases and mortality.
The team of US and German researchers analysed data from 115,541 women enrolled in the Nurses’ Health Study II. The nurses in the study were aged 25-42 years, free from angina and cardiovascular disease, and followed from 1989-2011 for cardiovascular events, diseases and mortality.
Overall, 17,531 women reported a diagnosis of migraine at the start of the study. Over 20 years of follow-up, 1,329 total cardiovascular disease events occurred and 223 women died from cardiovascular disease.
When compared to women without migraine, those with a diagnosis had a slightly greater risk for major cardiovascular disease, including heart attacks, strokes and angina or coronary revascularisation procedures.
“We found an approximately 50% increased risk for major cardiovascular disease,” said the researchers.
The associations remained after adjusting for other factors that may have increased the risk for these diseases, they added.
“Further research is needed to establish a possible cause for this”
In addition, they found migraine was associated with a higher risk for cardiovascular mortality.
While the study controlled for a large number of vascular risk factors, no information was available for vascular biomarkers, and migraine specifics, such as migraine aura.
In the British Medical Journal, the authors said: “These results further add to the evidence that migraine should be considered an important risk marker for cardiovascular disease, at least in women.”
“Given the high prevalence of migraine in the general population, an urgent need exists to understand the biological processes involved and to provide preventive solutions for patients,” they added.
In an editorial in the same journal, experts agreed that it was “time to add migraine to the list of early life medical conditions that are markers for later life cardiovascular risk”.
However, they cautioned that “the magnitude of the risk should not be over-emphasized”, as it was found to be “small at the level of the individual patient”.
Maureen Talbot, senior cardiac nurse at the British Heart Foundation, said: “This large study of young women over a number of years, shows an association between migraine and an increased risk of developing cardiovascular disease.
“However, further research is needed to establish a possible cause for this and also to determine if the findings apply to men and older age groups,” she added.