Women who experience migraine headaches are more prone to suffer a heart attack compared to men, a new study shows.

Approximately 14 to 15% of the world's population suffer from migraine, a condition that causes chronic headaches with severe symptoms. According to a survey conducted by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in 2021, about 4.3% of the adult population in the U.S. reported they experienced migraines or severe headaches in the past three months, with the percentage among women (6.2%) higher than that of men (2.2%).

In the latest study, published in the journal PLOS Medicine, researchers from Aarhus University in Denmark studied the connection between migraines and an elevated risk of cardiovascular issues like strokes and heart attacks in women.

The team observed that people, both men and women, who experience frequent migraine headaches face an elevated risk of ischemic stroke, while the risk of having a heart attack or hemorrhagic stroke is higher in women.

A stroke can occur when blood flow to the brain is blocked or there is sudden bleeding in the brain.

There are two primary types of strokes:

  • Ischemic stroke: It is the most common type of stroke where the arteries get blocked, often due to cholesterol build-up or a blood clot. The blockage prevents blood from reaching the brain.
  • Hemorrhagic stroke: It occurs when there's a sudden bleeding in the brain due to a ruptured blood vessel, putting pressure on brain cells and damaging them.

Researchers went through the medical records of people in Denmark, aged 18 to 60 years, from 1996 to 2018. They identified people who had migraine headaches based on their drug prescription records. The team compared the risk of heart attack, ischemic stroke and hemorrhagic stroke before the age of 60 to the risks people in the general population without migraine have.

Researchers found that both men and women had a similarly increased risk of ischemic stroke. They also noticed a gender-specific trend – women with migraine headaches were at a slightly higher risk of heart attacks and hemorrhagic stroke compared to men.

Dr. Cecilia Hvitfeldt Fuglsang, a registrar in the Department of Clinical Epidemiology at Aarhus University and the lead author of the study, said she wants doctors to be aware of the association between migraine and cardiovascular risk for both men and women.

"How we may modify this risk is less clear. The main thing that can be done now is to optimize the treatment of any other cardiovascular risk factors and for instance, encourage smoking cessation," she told Medical News Today. "Also, it would be interesting to look at how we may diminish the risk of cardiovascular disease among persons with migraine. This would, however, require a different type of data and study setup than what I am currently working with."

Previous studies have shown that people with migraine headaches are also more likely to suffer a variety of other mental and physical conditions like depression, epilepsy, fibromyalgia, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), hearing difficulties, asthma and sleeping problems.