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Migraines Linked to Stroke, Heart Disease Death-Risk in Study

People who suffer a certain kind of migraine headache are more likely to die from stroke or heart disease, according to a study in the British Medical Journal.

Men and women who have migraines with so-called aura -- sensory and visual disturbances before or during the headache -- are at an increased risk of dying from all causes, as well as from heart disease and stroke, researchers led by Larus Gudmundsson at the University of Iceland found.

The scientists looked at data from 18,725 people who lived in and around Reykjavik, Iceland, and were born between 1907 and 1935. The risk of death from stroke or heart disease was “marginally higher” in those with migraine with aura, the researchers said. Those who don’t experience aura with their migraine headaches had no increased risk.

“For many people the information will cause an unwarranted amount of anxiety, although others may use the opportunity to modify their lifestyle and risk factors accordingly,” said Klaus Berger, a researcher at the University of Muenster in Germany, in an accompanying comment.

One in four women and one in 12 men in the U.K. are affected by migraines, according to the National Health Service. About 12 percent of people in the U.S. experience migraines, according to the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland. The painful headaches last four to 72 hours, and symptoms include sensitivity to light, noise and odors.

The researchers said the actual risk to migraine sufferers is low and that efforts to cut down on smoking, cholesterol and high blood pressure should remain the focus of reducing deaths linked to heart disease.

The study was financed by the University of Iceland Research Fund.

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