There may be some links between migraines and other diseases, according to recent studies featured in USA Today.
Heart attacks were twice as common in people with migraines (4 percent), according to a study by Dr. Richard Lipton, a neurologist at Albert Einstein College in New York and a spokesman for the American Academy of Neurology. The risk was especially high in women who had migraines with aura – sensations that occur before the headache and can include seeing flashing or zigzagged lights.
Brain lesions become more common with age, but women who had migraines with aura in middle age were more likely than other women to have the lesions on the brain’s cerebellum when given a brain scan later in life. More examination is needed to learn whether migraines can cause such lesions and whether they are linked with cognitive or functional impairment, said Lenore Launer, Ph.D., a researcher at the National Institute on Aging.
Women with migraines were 47 percent more likely to develop Multiple Sclerosis (MS) than those without headaches, reported a study.
A study in its early stages on the link between MS and migraines reported 99 percent of women with migraines will not develop MS, said Ilya Kister, a researcher at New York University in USA Today.
Other research has linked migraine with stroke, depression and epilepsy.
According to the Journal of the American Medical Association 25 percent of women have migraines, while 8 percent of men and 5-10 percent of children do as well. Many experts agree more women have migraines because of their menstrual cycle.
Caroline Smith, executive assistant of the National Headache Foundation (NHF), said the foundation mainly works on headache awareness.
“There has been more concern for headaches over the years,” Smith said. “What’s really important is getting people to realize they have migraines by noticing the symptoms and getting them to a professional.”
There are treatments available to ease the pain of those who suffer from migraines.
After 43 years of his wife suffering from migraines, Dr. Lyle Henry dedicated himself to researching the cause of migraines at Harvard University. Henry believes it is more effective to prevent migraines rather than stop them, and some people are more prone to migraines because of genetic predisposition. Henry helped develop the natural formula Tuliv Migraine Defense to prevent migraines.
“My wife used to have painful headaches everyday, and within two weeks of taking the herbs, her migraines went away,” Henry said. “Most of my clients were frustrated with expensive pharmaceuticals not working. I’m not anti-doctor, but I don’t think people’s options should be limited to what pharmaceutical companies market to doctors.”
Acupuncture is another source of alternative treatments for migraines.
Laurie Binder, a licensed acupuncturist and certified nurse practitioner, said Chinese medicine links an imbalance in the body with migraines. Acupuncture treats migraines as they occur and prevents them once the body is back in balance. Binder said migraines can be a sign of more severe health problems.
These health problems appear to share some underlying causes. But doctors also know changes in brain blood flow during a migraine with aura can, in rare cases, lead directly to a stroke, Lipton said. He said this is of particular concern for younger adults who otherwise are at very low stroke risk.
For now, there is no proof that treating migraines prevents heart attack, stroke or other conditions.
Still, migraine patients can discuss other health concerns with their doctors and should try to exercise, eat well and control blood pressure, cholesterol and weight.
“Good health care requires recognizing not only the migraine but the whole party that may be traveling together,” Lipton said.
National Headache Awareness Week is the first full week of June.
ANGELA SWARTZ can be reached at email@example.com.