News & Research

Migraines During Pregnancy Linked to Heart Disease & Stroke

Women who have migraines during pregnancy have a greater risk of stroke or heart disease than pregnant women who don’t. Using pregnancy discharge data from nearly 17 million women in the US, researchers found that almost 34,000 women had been treated for migraines. These women were 19 times
more likely to suffer a stroke, five times more likely to have a heart
attack and more than twice as likely to have heart disease, blood clots
and other vascular problems.

The study uncovered a possible link, not proof that having migraines directly causes stroke or heart disease. As with nearly every study on migraine and other headache disorders, it establishes that people with one disorder are more likely than the general population to have another (often referred to as comorbidity), not cause and effect. It’s just enough to open up further research on the subject.

Articles on this study recommend prevention over treating migraines as they occur. Headache specialist Richard Lipton makes a point that everyone with headache should consider.

“People with migraine should view migraine the same way they would view diabetes or high cholesterol, as a medical problem that should be managed to make life better today and prevent complications tomorrow. Rather than being alarmed, people with migraine should get the migraines treated and make sure they modify risk factors for heart disease and stroke by maintaining a normal body weight and treating high blood pressure.”

The slew of not-so-good news of late is tempered by good news about migraine and memory. It is also a reminder to pay attention to your health as a whole, not just your headaches or migraines. I’m getting better at this, particularly in my diet, but it’s impossible to avoid all the risk factors for any illness. I figure that everything I do or encounter can possibly kill me, so I do the best I can without freaking out.

3 thoughts on “Migraines During Pregnancy Linked to Heart Disease & Stroke”

  1. “The slew of not-so-good news of late is tempered by good news about migraine and memory.”

    That evidence is ambiguous, not good. It is also consistent with the possibility that migraine kills people with certain cerebral diseases at a young age.

    Thanks for pointing that out. I always try to use language that conveys the ambiguity of all reported medical studies, but I’m not always successful!


  2. There was another very interesting poster presented at the meeting that showed that even when people know they have cardiac risk factors, they tend to not take them seriously, they underestimate their degree of risk, and they don’t work hard enough to modify their risks.

    Since 50% of women will die of heart disease, and since women with migraine with aura have double the risk of heart disease over that basic background rate of risk, and since men with migraine also have an increased risk of cardiovascular disease…we should all get serious about checking our blood pressure and cholesterol, getting and keeping them down, maintaining a healthy weight, and getting exercise. (And for heaven’s sake, stop smoking!) It’s easy to use headache as an excuse for not exercising, and it’s easy to use pain or triptans as an excuse for blood pressure elevations. But you know what? Up is up, regardless of cause, and an elevated blood pressure is still going to be a problem in the long run.

    The data this cardiology team had suggested that over the long haul, blood pressure elevations of only 10 points were significant in increasing stroke and heart attack risk.

    So, attack the problem before it attacks you.

    Thanks for pointing this out. I’ve found that I do the same thing. I feel like I’m vigilant about my health, but it’s really all about migraine and I let the rest slide. After the not-so-good results of a cholesterol test, I’ve been trying to whip myself into shape.

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