Migraines affect nearly 40 million people in the United States, and these incapacitating headaches are three times more common in women. People who have migraines frequently feel queasy and are sensitive to light and sound. In addition, up to one-third of migraine sufferers have strange visual or bodily experiences known as an aura.
The aura usually occurs just before the headache, though some people only feel the aura and not the headache. Both types of migraine are referred to as migraine with aura or classic migraine, and both are linked to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke.
Internal medicine and primary care physician Samuel I. Fink, MD, in Tarzana, California, can help you manage your migraines and protect your heart health. Here, we examine the connection between migraines and heart disease.
What exactly is migraine aura?
A migraine aura is a visual or sensory disturbance that occurs within an hour of the onset of intense headache. A blind patch that affects both eyes is a common symptom.
Migraine-related blind spots are often white or gray, with a shimmering or sparkling zigzag that grows across one side of the visual field and eventually goes off into the peripheral vision. One common variety is dubbed “fortification spectrum” because the pattern of geometrical lines resembles the walls of a medieval fort.
An aura can also cause tingling on one side of the body, particularly in your face or hand. Language auras, which can also occur with a stroke or ministroke, occur infrequently and cause transitory speaking difficulty.
Auras can occasionally induce one-sided paralysis in a limb, arm, or face, which is known as a hemiplegic migraine. Again, similar symptoms can occur as a result of a stroke or ministroke.
Research links migraines with increased heart disease and stroke risk
It’s important to know that the link between migraines and heart disease and stroke remains unclear, and more research is necessary. Various studies have found a link between migraine and increased incidence of cardiovascular disease.
Other research has focused on the link between migraine and stroke. The increased risk of stroke is linked to migraine with aura. Additionally, this increased risk has been observed in women but not men.
What’s the connection?
Experts aren't sure why migraine raises the risk of heart disease and stroke. It’s thought that abnormal patterns of electrical activity in the brain may cause migraines. This abnormal electrical activity may affect your cardiovascular system.
Another theory is that migraine aura may be linked to blood vessel instability, which makes you more prone to cardiovascular problems.
Protecting your heart and blood vessels
Keep in mind that most studies linking migraine to heart disease and stroke have been conducted in women age 45 and over. However, migraine with aura is more prevalent in younger women who are generally at a low risk for heart disease and stroke.
If you're 45 and older, talk to Dr. Fink about reducing your risk factors, such as high cholesterol or high blood pressure. Managing any existing risk factors helps to protect your cardiovascular system.
If you’re younger than 45 and concerned about your cardiovascular health, don’t hesitate to discuss it with a specialist like Dr. Fink. Never ignore new migraine symptoms. If your usual aura consists of flashes of light, but you begin to feel numbness or weakness in your hand, see your doctor right away.
Our team provides the best internal medicine in Tarzana, and you can count on us to help you maintain wellness. If you’re concerned about your migraines, come in to see us. Call to schedule a visit with Dr. Fink or request an appointment online today.