Women who have migraine with aura may be at increased risk of heart attacks, and those taking newer contraceptives may be at higher risk of blood clots.

These findings came from two new studies that will be presented at the 65th Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Neurology in San Diego, March 16 to 23, 2013.

Visual disturbances and other sensory symptoms, such as flashing lights, numbness, tingling of the hands and face, blind spots, or smell distortion, that come before a migraine headache are known as migraine with aura.

The first study demonstrated that migraine with aura is linked to major cardiovascular events, including heart attack and stroke. A prior report, published in BMJ found that migraine was aura is linked to a twofold increased risk of stroke.

The scientists examined data from the Women’s Health Study with 27,860 women participating in the ongoing research, and 1,435 of those subjects had been affected by migraine with aura.

There were 1,030 cases of stroke, heart attack, or death from a cardiovascular cause during 15 years of follow-up.

The relative contribution of a variety of risk factors to these major cardiovascular events were analyzed by the team of experts.

Researcher Tobias Kurth, MD, ScD, of INSERM, the French National Institute of Health and Medical Research in Bordeaux and Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, explained:

“After high blood pressure, migraine with aura was the second strongest single contributor to risk of heart attacks and strokes. It came ahead of diabetes, current smoking, obesity, and family history of early heart disease.”

Although people with migraine with aura have a higher probability of having a heart attack or stroke, Kurth advised, it does not mean that everyone with migraine with aura are going to have one or the other.

According to Kurth, the risk of those cardiovascular events in patients with migraine with aura can be reduced by:

  • not smoking
  • exercising
  • keeping blood pressure low
  • staying at a healthy weight

The second study analyzed females with migraine who took hormonal contraceptives, and looked at their risk of developing blood clots.

Both women with migraine with aura and women with migraine without aura participated in the study who were taking both newer contraceptives, including the contraceptive patch and ring, and older contraceptives.

A total of 145,304 of the females observed were using contraceptives – 2,691 were affected by migraine with aura and 4,437 were affected by migraine without aura.

Women who had migraine with aura had a higher chance of having blood clot complications, such as deep vein thrombosis with all types of contraceptives, compared to those with migraine without aura.

The team found that 7.5% of women who had migraine with aura and used a newer generation combined contraceptive had deep vein thrombosis vs. 6.3% of females who had migraine without aura. However, they noted, the timing of the two occurrences is unknown.

An increased incidence of blood clot complications was seen among females with migraine who took contraceptives compared to subjects taking the contraceptives who did not have migraine.

Researcher Shivang Joshi, MD, MPH, RPh, of Brigham and Women’s Falkner Hospital in Boston and a member of the American Academy of Neurology, said:

“Women who have migraine with aura should be sure to include this information in their medical history and talk to their doctors about the possible higher risks of newer contraceptives, given their condition.”

Kurth’s research received support from the National Institutes of Health, and Joshi’s research received support from the Graham Headache Center Research Fund.

Written by Sarah Glynn