The menopause-migraine link to heart attack and stroke

Women have to be especially careful when it comes to their hearts.

That’s because not only do heart attacks in women often go unnoticed until it’s too late, they can be doubly deadly.

Of course, men and women share some similar cardiovascular risks including unhealthy lifestyle practices, diet and obesity.

But there are two factors unique to women that may give us extra pause when considering our risks — and it may not seem that there’s much we can effectively do about either.

Does that mean we’re doomed?

No, not in the least.

The results of a pair of studies have shed new light on the heart health risks associated with menopause and migraines

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Compounded risks

A few years ago, the American Heart Association put forth a statement titled “Menopause Transition and Cardiovascular Disease Risk: Implications for Timing for Early Prevention.”

It addressed the fact that the menopause transition also mirrors a time of change in women’s cardiovascular health and named specific symptoms we likely feel powerless about that increase the danger level, including entering menopause at an earlier age or the severity of hot flashes or night sweats.

Women who suffer from migraines have also carried some concerns about their risk for cardiovascular events and stroke.

So researchers at Michigan Medicine decided to dig into both menopause symptoms and migraine to define the risk levels of these conditions better…

Their research included a pair of studies that followed more than 1,900 women from the time they were in their late teens to early 30s until their 50s and 60s, gathering health data from yearly exams, blood tests, questionnaires and more.

Just over 30% of the middle-aged women in the study lived with persistent hot flashes and night sweats that started in their 40s or before.

These are vasomotor symptoms, or VMS, because they happen due to changes in the diameter of blood vessels. Both VMS in menopause and migraines have to do with blood vessel contraction and dilation.

Within this same group of women, approximately 23% also suffered from migraines. This was the only group for whom the researchers found extra risk of stroke, heart attack or other cardiovascular events that couldn’t be explained by other risk factors that have long been known to be linked to cardiovascular problems.

Other women who had migraine but only minimal VMS symptoms starting in their 50s and 60s (even escalating within those age ranges), had no excess cardiovascular risk from the combination of conditions, once other risk factors were taken into account.

Bottom line: A higher risk of heart issues and stroke were only seen in those with long-term hot flashes, night sweats and migraines.

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Reducing the toll of hot flashes and migraine

Some of the biggest factors, gathered from the women’s early lives, in predicting who would go on to have persistent hot flashes and night sweats were having migraines, depression and smoking cigarettes. The risks were also higher for black women.

According to study leader Catherine Kim, M.D., M.P.H., “These two studies, taken together, underscore that not all women have the same experiences as they grow older, and that many can control the risk factors that might raise their chances of heart disease and stroke later in life.”

“For the subgroup with both migraines and early persistent hot flashes and night sweats, and for those currently experiencing migraines in their early adulthood, these findings point to an added need to control risks, and address symptoms early,” she adds.

That’s where she feels the American Heart Association’s Life’s Essential 8, can help. And one reason may be its impact on aging…

Following steps outlined in Life’s Essential 8 checklist has been found not only to improve heart health but to also slow the pace of biological aging.

The Michigan Medicine researchers did not imply as much, but poor lifestyle habits, including smoking or suffering from untreated conditions, like depression, may be linked to phenotypic age acceleration. Compared to chronological age, phenotypic age indicates faster biological aging.

One can’t help but wonder if that impacts the age at which menopausal VMS symptoms may start, which when combined with migraine certainly increased the risk for women in their 40s.

But even if you are well past your 40s, it’s never too late to begin practices that promote heart health — and certainly seek help for migraines. Treatments have come a long way and some supplements have been shown to help.

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Menopause and migraines: New findings point to power of prevention — EurekAlert!

Life’s Essential 8 — American Heart Association

Dr. Adria Schmedthorst

By Dr. Adria Schmedthorst

Dr. Adria Schmedthorst is a board-certified Doctor of Chiropractic, with more than 20 years of experience. She has dedicated herself to helping others enjoy life at every age through the use of alternative medicine and natural wellness options. Dr. Schmedthorst enjoys sharing her knowledge with the alternative healthcare community, providing solutions for men and women who are ready to take control of their health the natural way.