This article originally appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle on February 27, 2013.
Women who suffer migraine headaches that start with the flashing lights or other visual fireworks called “auras” may need to take extra good care of their hearts.
A study released last month found that women who experience auras with their migraines were more likely to have a heart attack or stroke or develop a blood clot than those with any other heart disease risk factor except high blood pressure. Migraines with auras were a bigger predictor of heart trouble than diabetes, smoking, obesity or a family history of heart disease.
Less than a quarter of migraine sufferers experience auras, said Dr. Peter Goadsby, director of the UCSF headache clinic. For patients without auras, there does not seem to be a link between migraines and heart disease.
There are no special heart disease prevention guidelines for people who suffer migraines with auras, said Dr. Jennifer Tremmel, the clinical director of women’s heart health at Stanford. But it’s especially important for those patients to keep other heart disease risk factors in check by eating a healthy diet, exercising, monitoring blood glucose and blood pressure, and not smoking.