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Several new studies add to the growing evidence showing a link between migraines and cardiovascular risks. But do these studies mean that migraines cause strokes and heart attacks? In this issue, we look at the findings of the newest study published a few weeks ago. We also look at why OB/GYNs are rethinking oral birth control for patients with migraines plus a promising new theory on relieving migraine pain - with light!

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New Research: Migraines and Stroke Risk for Women

For starters, let’s be very clear: While there is mounting evidence that links migraines to blood clots, heart attacks and strokes, there is no evidence showing that migraines cause cardiovascular events. Instead, migraine can be seen as a risk factor for these events.

The newest migraine-cardiovascular disease study shows a 50% risk.

On May 31, 2016, a study published in the British Medical Journal,and based on data from the American Nurses’ Health Study, showed that women who experience migraines have a 50% greater risk of serious cardiovascular disease, including a significantly greater risk of dying from heart attack and stroke. The study is particularly important for two reasons. First, it looked at a huge sample of 115,541 women aged 25-42 years old at the start of the study. Second, it followed these women for more than 20 years. After adjusting for other factors, migraine was associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, myocardial infarction, stroke, angina and other issues. The migraine sufferers were also far more likely to die from these issues.

What does this mean for you?

  • Recognize migraine as a risk factor. Make sure your doctor is aware that you experience migraines—with or without aura. While the research is clear about women’s heightened risk, male migraine sufferers should also be alert to potential risks. Anyone who suffers migraines should be screened regularly for cardiovascular factors.
  • Be aware of where you may be “layering up” risks. For example, many prescription and OTC migraine drugs include side effects such as raising blood pressure, irregular heartbeat and the risk of stroke. Triptans, for example, cause blood vessels to shrink and may also cause the arteries of the heart to contract. The leading Rx migraine preventive—topiramate—can cause chest pain. Smoking, obesity, high blood pressure and other medical conditions can also increase the risk of cardiovascular events. So can a family history of stroke and heart attack. Even combination birth control pills can raise your risks (see following story). If you have migraine plus any of these other factors, it’s critical to talk with your doctor promptly about what you can do to reduce your risks.
  • Do all you can to reduce migraine frequency and intensity. Again, so far no study shows that migraines cause strokes. Still, migraines are clearly linked to serious medical issues. Just as you might try to reduce risks with diet and exercise, it seems prudent to make migraine prevention part of your overall health strategy. It also makes sense to look at herbal and dietary supplements that are proven safe and effective—but that come without the added cardiovascular risks possible with ibuprofen, topiramate, anti-seizure meds and other drugs.


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Oral Contraceptives: Who Shouldn't Take Them

There are two types of oral contraceptives. There is the so-called “mini-pill” which contains just progestin. There is also the combination birth control pill that containing both progestin and estrogen. The difference is very important for women who get migraines with aura.

Recent studies suggest that combination birth control pills increase a woman’s risk of stroke. Studies also suggest that women who have migraines with aura have a higher risk of having a stroke. These findings have prompted concern in the medical community.

The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecologists, for instance, has stated that combination birth control pills are absolutely contraindicated for women who have migraines with auras.

In other words: if you have migraine with aura, DO NOT take combination birth control pills.

What about women who have migraines without aura? Combination birth controls pill may be prescribed safely as long as you have no other stroke risk factors. For a list of factors to discuss with your doctor,  CLICK HERE.

 
Give the Green Light to Migraine Relief

During migraine attacks, many people seek a darkened room because light intensifies visual disturbances and pain. But now, scientists have found that a particular wavelength of light can actually help migraines! A team of Harvard University researchers led by Rami Burstein found that while blue, white, amber and red light all seemed to make migraine pain worse, green light seemed beneficial. Burstein’s team isn’t yet sure why green light seems more soothing during a migraine, but the data clearly showed that (compared to other wavelengths) green triggered the smallest amount of electrical activity in both the eye and the brain. He speculates that green lighting might prove soothing for migraine sufferers. He even envisions how special glasses might be developed to help migraine sufferers by filtering out all light waves except green. Until then, you might try keeping a green bulb handy to see if can help ease—or even avert—an attack.

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