The increased risk of stroke for migraineurs with aura continues to make the news. Now a recent study published in the journal Neurology finds that women with migraine with aura who have a particular variation in one their genes have a four-fold increased risk of stroke.
Tobias Kurth, ScD, of Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and his colleagues studied the records of 25,000 caucasian women of at least 45 years of age who participated in the Women’s Health Study in order to better understand the relationship between migraine headache, genes and heart disease.
The women in this study were tested for a variation in the MTHFR gene, called the TT genotype variation, which 11% of the population carry. The variant has previously been linked to an increased risk of both cardiovascular disease and migraine.
As in the general population, 18% of the women reported having had a migraine at least once in their lives, and roughly 13% reported having migraines within the past year. Of the latter group, 40% had migraines with aura.
The women were followed for 12 years and, in that time, 625 women experienced a cardiac event, primarily stroke and heart attack. Researchers found that the genetic variation alone did not increase the risk of heart-related problems. But having active migraine with aura and the genetic variation substantially increased the risk, particularly for stroke.
The study also found that there was no increased risk of stroke for women with migraine without aura.
Researchers are not yet able to explain the connection between the TT genetic variation and migraine with aura, and it is not clear if the variation itself causes the increased risk. Health experts do not recommend genetic testing, but do recommend that all women with migraine with aura make heart healthy choices, including exercising, keeping cholesterol levels low, controlling blood pressure and refraining from smoking.