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Guy Smarts Your headache might increase your risk of a heart attack or stroke

Men who experience migraines—severe, throbbing headaches that are usually confided on one side of the head and can come with nausea and light sensitivity—are at higher risk of heart problems than those without the condition, new research out of Denmark suggests.

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Your Headache Might Increase Your Risk of a Heart Attack Or Stroke play

Your Headache Might Increase Your Risk of a Heart Attack Or Stroke

(Photograph by Getty Images)

Suffer from frequent head-throbbers? Your productivity might not be the only thing in danger.

Men who experience migraines—severe, throbbing headaches that are usually confided on one side of the head and can come with nausea and light sensitivity—are at higher risk of heart problems than those without the condition, new research out of Denmark suggests.

In the study, researchers pulled health records over 19 years from about 50,000 people who suffered from migraines and more than 500,000 people who didn’t have the headaches.

Over that time, migraine sufferers were more than twice as likely to experience an ischemic stroke—the most common kind of stroke, caused by an artery blockage in your brain—49 percent more likely to have a heart attack, 59 percent more likely to have a blood clot in your legs or lung, and 25 percent more likely to have an irregular heartbeat.

In particular, the chances of experiencing a stroke were much higher within the first year of the migraine diagnosis. Men with migraines had 12 times the risk of a stroke within that first year than those without the headaches.

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One possible reason? Something called a vasospasm in the arteries of your brain, explains study author Kasper Adelborg, M.D., Ph.D. A vasospasm—the constricting and narrowing of blood vessels that blocks blood flow—can lead to a migraine, but it can also boost your changes of having a stroke, too.

As for the heart risks, it’s possible that the meds many people take to control the pain with migraines might be playing a role, too.

Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs like ibuprofen or naproxen) have been shown to increase your chances of heart attack, as we reported. That’s because they may trigger abnormal clotting of your blood.

But before you get too freaked out, it’s important to recognize that the absolute risk experiencing such problems was still pretty low.

Take a heart attack, for instance. For every 1,000 people with migraine, 25 would experience a heart attack over that 19-year period, compared to 17 without migraine.

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The low risk is in part because the people in the study were relatively young, with an average age in their mid-30s. Things like heart attack and stroke aren’t all that common to begin with in that age group.

But even that small increase in risk can be significant.

“The increased risk translates into a substantial increase in risk at the population level, because migraine is a common disease, affecting many men worldwide,” says Dr. Adelborg.

More studies need to be done to determine if migraines need to be treated differently to alleviate these heart risks—in particular, whether guys at higher risk of heart problems should also be taking blood thinners in addition to their NSAIDs, he says.

In the meantime, if you’re suffering from any kind of recurring headache, loop in your doctor. He or she can help you determine if you’re suffering from migraines, and if so, which treatment is most appropriate. Plus, your doctor can also monitor things like blood pressure and cholesterol levels, which can help gauge your risk of heart disease.

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