The World Health Organization classifies migraine as one of the top 20 most disabling illnesses on the planet. This illness of the brain is now linked to diseases of the heart.
One-fifth of the population experiences migraine, and it affects women three to four times more often than men: a crushing headache, often with sinking nausea, a crippling sensitivity to light that makes a sunny window debilitating. Streaks of light, called phosphenes, may cross the visual field. Language may become indecipherable.(1)
Thirty percent of women will experience a migraine in their lifetimes. Three percent of the population have chronic migraine — headaches at least 15 days a month.
A recent large study of female nurses aged 25 to 42 has found an association between migraine and cardiovascular disease. The study followed 115,541 predominately white women for 20 years. All were free of angina and cardiovascular disease at the beginning of the study.(1)
Every two years between 1989 and 2011, the women were asked to record any cardiac events in a questionnaire. Self-reported cardiac events were confirmed by a physician. Primary outcomes were cardiovascular disease, heart attack and stroke, or fatal stroke, fatal heart attack and fatal coronary heart disease.(1)
Of the 115,541 women studied, 17,531 or 15.2 percent had a medical diagnosis of migraine at the beginning of the study. An additional 6389 were later classified as suffering from migraine.
Over the course of 20 years, researchers discovered an increased risk for major cardiovascular disease in women with migraine, independent of age after adjusting for confounding variables.
Major cardiovascular disease events were experienced by 1329 women and 223 women died from cardiovascular disease. Migraine was associated with a higher risk for major cardiovascular disease, heart attack, stroke and coronary revascularization procedures such as heart bypass surgery.