Publish date: Cardiology News, January 24, 2017
Author: Mitchel L. Zoler

Key clinical point: Women undergoing coronary angiography because of suspected coronary artery disease who also had a migraine headache history had a significantly increased rate of strokes and total cardiovascular disease events.

Major finding: The stroke rate during 6.5 years of follow-up was more than twofold greater in women with a migraine headache history.

Data source: WISE, a study of 936 U.S. women enrolled during 1996-1999 and followed prospectively.

Disclosures: Dr. Rambarat had no relevant financial disclosures.


NEW ORLEANS – Women who underwent a clinically indicated coronary angiogram and also reported having migraine headaches had a twofold increased rate of strokes, compared with similar women without a history of migraine, in a prospective, observational study of 888 women followed for a median of 6.5 years.

This finding “underscores that more attention should be placed on evaluating women with a history of migraine headache for cardiovascular disease,” Cecil A. Rambarat, MD, said at the American Heart Association scientific sessions.

He also raised the possibility that similar women in the community with suspected coronary artery disease and a history of migraine headaches might benefit from a daily aspirin regimen, although he cautioned that this approach needs testing in a trial.

Aspirin aside, what’s important for these women is to “modify their risk factors and look at their family history,” reported Dr Rambarat of the University of Florida in Gainesville.

The study used data collected on women enrolled in the Women’s Ischemic Syndrome Evaluation (WISE) study during 1996-1999. WISE entered women at four U.S. centers scheduled for a clinically indicated coronary angiogram as part of their routine care for chest pain symptoms or suspected myocardial ischemia.

Among the 936 women enrolled in WISE, 917 completed a baseline questionnaire about their migraine history that showed 224 women had a migraine history and 693 women did not report having migraine headaches. The average age of women with a migraine history was 54 years, compared with 59 years in those without migraines.

All 917 women were followed for a median of 6.5 years for the incidence of nonfatal myocardial infarction, stroke, or heart failure. A subgroup of 888 of these women were also followed for a median of 9.5 years for mortality, including the incidence of cardiovascular death.

After the investigators adjusted for age, race, body mass index, history of diabetes or hypertension, dyslipidemia, smoking, and other variables, women with migraine were 83% more likely to have a cardiovascular event (cardiovascular death or nonfatal event) during follow-up, compared with women with no migraine history, a statistically significant difference.

Women with migraine were also 2.33-fold more likely to have a nonfatal stroke during follow-up, also a statistically significant difference. The increased stroke rate seems to have largely driven the significant difference in all cardiovascular events.

The mechanisms that might link migraine headaches with stroke are not clear, but Dr. Rambarat suggested several possibilities. Women with migraine may have dysfunction of their vascular endothelium, increased inflammatory markers, increased release of prothrombotic factors, a patent foramen ovale, or certain genetic risk factors that predispose them to migraine and to stroke or other cardiovascular disease, he said.

A report of these findings was recently published online (Am J Med. 2016 Dec 28. doi: 10.1016/j.amjmed.2016.12.028).

Dr. Rambarat had no relevant financial disclosures.