Migraine and vascular diseases: a review of the evidence and potential implications for management

Simona Sacco, Silvia Ricci, Antonio Carolei
Cephalalgia: An International Journal of Headache 2012, 32 (10): 785-95

INTRODUCTION: The higher-than-expected incidence of vascular diseases reported in migraineurs suggests that migraine may, in some cases, be a dangerous condition rather than just a distressing but harmless disorder. We provide a systematic review of data linking migraine to vascular diseases.

MIGRAINE AND VASCULAR DISEASES: Available data indicate an increased risk of ischemic stroke in subjects suffering from migraine with aura. In addition, evidence suggests an association between migraine with aura and cardiac disease, intracerebral hemorrhage, retinal vasculopathy and mortality that needs to be further corroborated; consequently, for those conditions, migraine with aura can be only considered among the less-well-documented risk factors. As the absolute risk of ischemic stroke in the overall migraineur population is low, subjects suffering from migraine with aura should be made aware of the possible link but not unduly alarmed. It is a common notion that the vascular risk of migraineurs may be further increased by the presence of easily treatable vascular risk factors such as arterial hypertension, cigarette smoking and oral contraceptive use.

CONCLUSIONS: Forthcoming guidelines should appropriately recommend supporting migraineurs not only with measures aimed at decreasing headache frequency, thus improving quality of life, but also with general measures and preventive strategies aimed to reduce the overall vascular risk. In fact, headache specialists should take care not only of relieving pain but also of assessing and treating concurrent vascular risk factors, while gynecologists, in particular, should routinely consider the presence and type of migraine before prescribing oral contraceptives.

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