Magazine article Science News

Big Headache: Auras May Add Risk to Migraines

Magazine article Science News

Big Headache: Auras May Add Risk to Migraines

Article excerpt

As if the headaches weren't enough. Women who experience migraines that are preceded by sensory irregularities face a heightened risk of heart attack, stroke, and other cardiovascular problems, a long-term study of middle-aged women shows.

Some people with migraines have sensory anomalies, called auras, which can include zigzag lines or spots of light in the visual field or grayed vision. Auras can also be characterized by tingling in the limbs and physical weakness.

To investigate potential links among migraines, strokes, and heart problems, the scientists beginning in 1992 identified 3,610 female health professionals who had had migraines during the past year. Of these, 40 percent had experienced auras. The women in the study, who were otherwise healthy and over age 45, were participating in a large trial investigating various medical conditions, says study coauthor Tobias Kurth, a neuroepidemiologist at Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston.

Over the next 10 years, the women who had experienced migraines with auras had twice as many strokes and heart attacks as did women in the larger trial who had no history of migraines. On the other hand, there was no significant difference in the rate of cardiovascular problems between women with aurafree migraines and the migrainefree women.

Women experiencing auras were also nearly twice as likely to have chest tightness or to need heart surgery, and they were more than twice as likely to die from a cardiovascular problem during the study, the researchers report in the July 19 Journal of the American Medical Association. …

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