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A New Connection Between Migraines, Heart Disease and Stroke

Millions of people suffer from migraines -- headaches so severe they can be disabling. Migraines often are accompanied by nausea, vomiting, and extreme sensitivity to light and sound. Some migraines are preceded by an aura -- in the form of light flashes, blind spots or tingling in an arm or leg. Researchers now have new evidence of a connection between migraines and heart disease or stroke.

A noted survey shows women are three times more likely to suffer from migraine headaches than men.

Shenika Walker describes hers. "They're painful … very, very, very painful."

Walker's migraines are preceded by an "aura" -- dizziness, flashes or spots of light and temporary loss of vision. "I see spots when mine comes on."

The aura may mean Walker has a higher risk for heart disease and stroke.

That's the conclusion of the latest migraine study in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Dr. Tobias Kurth is with Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston. He is one of the authors of a 10-year study of more than 27,000 women. "Women with migraine with aura were twice as likely to experience cardiovascular disease overall, and specific cardiovascular disease such as heart attack, stroke, chest pain, or to die from cardiovascular disease. We found the most common form of migraine, migraine without aura is not associated with cardiovascular disease."

The study compared women with migraine and aura to women who do not have migraines.

Dr. Tobias says migraine aura affects 20 to 30 percent of migraine patients.

He says only a small fraction of the women studied who had migraine with aura experienced a cardiovascular event

But that got the attention of cardiologist Paula Johnson. She says doctors should pay more attention to patients' migraine histories. "And for those women who do have an aura, to make sure that they understand what the risk factors are for heart disease."

Scientists speculate that there is a common genetic link between aura and blood vessel disease. If true, migraine sufferers would do best if they avoid risk factors that further increase their chances of cardiovascular disease -- such as smoking, high blood pressure and high cholesterol.

Video courtesy of The Journal of The American Medical Association