The Real Link Between Migraine and Heart Disease

Researchers have found a genetic cause for the increased coronary artery disease risk experienced by some patients with migraine; however, this relationship may be limited to those who suffer from a specific kind of migraine.

Researchers have found a genetic cause for the increased coronary artery disease risk experienced by some patients with migraine; however, this relationship may be limited to those who suffer from a specific kind of migraine.

Patients with migraine with aura, less common than migraine without aura, experience painful symptoms before the headache even ensues. A collaborative team of researchers conducted a study that assessed the risk of cardiovascular events in patients who suffer from either form of migraine. The results published in Neurology Genetics indicated that only one group had an overlap in genetic variants when it came to heart disease.

“Surprisingly, when we looked for shared gene variants that might help explain part of the link between migraine and heart disease, we found no shared gene variations between migraine with aura and heart disease,” Aarno Palotie, MD, of the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, said in a news release.

Two large studies revealed genetic variations that could explain the increased cardiovascular risk in patients with migraine. The first study analyzed 19,981 patients with migraine and 56,667 without. The second included 21,076 patients with heart disease and 63,014 without.

The research team used 4 methods to conduct a cross-phenotype genetic analysis. Single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) signals were shown to overlap with heart disease in those who experience prodrome.

“In other words, people with migraine without aura seem to have a lower load of genetic factors increasing the risk of heart disease,” said Anne Ducros, MD, PhD, of the University of Montpellier in France.

The authors explained that this discovery was surprising because previous evidence suggested a higher risk of heart disease in patients with migraine with aura — which is the opposite of what was found in this study. It was noted that other factors that were not measured in this study – including obesity, smoking, depression, and lack of exercise – may contribute to the association.

“We now need to understand why people with migraine who are born with a protective or neutral genetic risk for heart disease end up with an increased risk for heart problems,” Ducros concluded.