Migraines May Increase Your Risk of a Heart Attack

I have a brain tumor may be the most logical worry when you’re suffering from a migraine—the pain can feel like your head is literally going to explode. But a new study says migraines may indicate problems a little lower down: in your heart.

Researchers looked at data from over 17,531 women over 20 years and found that women who get recurring migraines—about 15 percent of the population—were far more likely to suffer a cardiovascular event like a stroke or heart attack. Worse, migraines nearly doubled a woman’s risk of dying from cardiovascular disease. The study was published in the BMJ.

While the reasons behind the correlation aren’t totally clear yet, one theory is that it has to do with progesterone, one of the two hormones that regulate the female menstrual cycle. Increased progesterone has been shown to increase the risk of heart disease and many women use hormonal treatments (like birth control) for their migraines since the headaches often follow their menstrual cycles.  A second possibility is that many popular migraine medications are “vasoconstrictors,” meaning they cause the blood vessels to tighten up in order to reduce headache pain; consistently shrinking your blood vessels may increase the risk of deadly blockages.

The researchers acknowledge the need for further research into what causes migraines to be a risk factor for heart disease but say that we can be reasonably sure there is a link. “More than 20 years of follow-up indicate a consistent link between migraine and cardiovascular disease events, including cardiovascular mortality,” they concluded.

Their recommendation? If you suffer from migraines, make sure to get your heart regularly checked.

The 7 Most Common Migraine Triggers

If you suffer from migraines, you know there’s no perfect science to prevent one from striking.

A migraine is not just a bad headache, but an intense, throbbing pain in the head, typically behind the eyes, ears, or temples, that can also cause nausea, vomiting, sensitivity to light and sound, and even visual phenomena like flashing lights, tunnel vision, and temporary loss of sight. It can last for a few hours, or even a few days, and can seriously interfere with daily life.

The exact cause of a migraine isn’t fully understood, though research suggests the most likely scenario is that abnormal changes in the brain’s biochemistry lead to inflammation, which causes blood vessels to swell and press on nerves. There also seems to be a genetic connection, making you more prone migraines if you have a family history. Women are three times more likely to have migraines than men, according to the Mayo Clinic, and most people have their first in adolescence, but it’s also possible to have one for the first time in your 20s or 30s.

Unfortunately, as much as it’s been studied, no one’s totally sure about what will and will not trigger a migraine, so a lot of finding out what will help comes down to trial and error.

While everyone can have different personal triggers, a handful of migraine triggers are extremely common among sufferers. To get the lowdown on the biggest ones to look out for, SELF talked to Mia Minen, M.D., neurologist and director of headache services at NYU Langone Medical Center.

1. Alcohol

Loading up on booze can give anyone a headache the next day, but for some people, even a small amount of alcohol can trigger a migraine. Ethanol is a vasodilator, meaning it expands blood vessels and raises blood pressure. Some people are more sensitive to its effects than others. It’s also dehydrating, and contains various other chemicals that impact the body and can cause chemical imbalances in the brain.

“Red wine is the most likely alcoholic trigger,” Minen says, according to what patients report. One 1988 study concluded that vodka didn’t have the same effects as red wine, suggesting that there’s an ingredient specific to red wine that causes migraines, and not alcohol itself. But there are other studies that have been done since then that show beer, spirits, and white and sparkling wines all have an impact, too. Other contents like sulfites, histamines, and flavonoid phenols and tannins have been called out as potential triggers, according to the American Headache Society, but the science to support one in particular just isn’t there.

2. Caffeine

This is a big one, Minen says, because the connection is complicated. Prevailing wisdom says caffeine is a migraine trigger. There’s no clear explanation as to why, but all the advice out there says to avoid caffeine because anecdotally it’s associated with migraines, and many people find relief from cutting it out.

However, caffeine is well known to relieve headaches—that’s why its in Excedrin and other headache or migraine medications—which leads some experts, like Minen, to consider the possibility that it’s not the caffeine itself but withdrawalfrom caffeine that’s the real culprit.

She suggests tapering off caffeine—all, caffeine. That means not just coffee, but caffeinated tea, chocolate and, yes, those OTC headache meds with caffeine in them. (They might not be helping, but actually causing more headaches by leading to withdrawal after they wear off.)

3. Inconsistent sleep

Bad sleep habits and an inconsistent schedule, aka sleeping four or five hours some nights and 10 or 11 other nights, “can really change the homeostasis in the body and affect cortisol levels and other hormones, which can potentially trigger a migraine,” Minen says. It’s more so the fluctuation in sleep patterns that can throw hormones off balance, versus not getting enough sleep.

4. Stress

Hormonal changes in the brain, caused by the “fight or flight” stress response, can also press all the right migraine-causing buttons. For some people, it’s the aftermath of stress that sparks a migraine. “During very stressful times, they may not get headaches, but rather at the end of the stressful period. Once the big project is handed in, then they develop the headache,” Minen says. Again, this seems to be related to the sharp fluctuations in hormone levels, specifically cortisol.

5. Menstruation

Menstrual migraines are common. In fact, two-thirds of female migraine sufferers who are menstruating report migraines hit regularly around their monthly period, suggesting an association between migraines and the hormonal fluctuations that take place during that time of the month. “Women often first develop migraines when they’re menstruating,” Minen says. “Migraines can also change with pregnancy and at the onset of peri-menopause and menopause,” she adds, when estrogen levels are changing drastically.

6. Anxiety or other mood disorders

Migraines are common in people suffering from anxiety disorders. Studies have found that those with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) and panic disorder tend to suffer from migraines most, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. While the exact reason for this connection is not known, Minen explains that there’s most likely some common thread in the brain’s biochemistry that predisposes someone to both. Some medications used to treat migraines were initially designed to treat depression or anxiety, Minen explains, which leads experts to believe that certain neurotransmitters connected to depression, like serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine, may also play a role in migraines. While the jury’s out on which comes first, the migraines or anxiety, it’s clear that chronic migraines can make coping with an anxiety disorder even more daunting.

7. Certain foods

This is a tricky one. “There’s a lot of media attention on different foods,” Minen explains. For example, some studies have suggested that histamines in some foods, like aged cheese and certain meats, can be triggers. But while these may affect some individuals, population studies don’t show strong evidence that any particular foods are triggers for wide swaths of people.

Many of the studies done on the subject don’t provide great data, Minen adds, so it’s hard to make specific food recommendations across the board. “I really don’t focus on the food triggers as much because it’s so hard to identify.” If you think a food may be triggering your migraines, keep a food diary, or use a tool like Curelator, that helps you catalogue potential triggers and determine what’s truly setting you off. Once you figure it out, you’ll know exactly what to avoid to (hopefully) get many more migraine-free days.

I am a Chronic Migraine Sufferer. Please, Don’t Judge.

Do not assume that I am weak because it takes everything I have to get out of bed. I am far from weak. I suffer from something you know nothing about, and unless you do, you have no right to criticize.

Think of the worst headache you have ever had. Thought of it, okay. Now magnify that by like x10. Throw in some blurred vision, and just for fun how about some nausea. Add thee sensitivity to light and sound. That is a migraine.

That is what migraine sufferers all across this world deal with. It isn’t just an excuse to miss work, or school, or family functions- like we get accused of doing, all the time. No we don’t want to miss out on life like we do.

I mean think about it, who in their right mind would want to miss out on Grandma’s cooking on Christmas. No one, that’s who. We just have a crippling headache that barely let’s us get out of bed.

Those of us who suffer 15 or more migraine headache days a month, have what is known as Chronic Migraine or sometimes, Chronic Daily Headache. It is anything but delightful I assure you.

There is no food that causes mine. There is no substance for me to stay away from- like alcohol. I mean seriously, I don’t even drink anymore. Mine are caused by things that I can’t control- Stress and Weather. So if I was to eliminate all the stress in my life and be able to control the weather, then maybe I would be okay.

But I can’t. So I’m not okay. I suffer from headaches that range in severity, every day. Sometimes I’m okay, other times, not so much. I have tried different medications that I take daily to try and control my headaches, so far nothing.

I am going to ask them next time about doing the botox injections. Hopefully that will get me some relief. As it stands right now, my chronic migraine is affecting my life daily.

It limits me as to what I can and can’t do, not only when I actually have a migraine, but I am living a game of chance. It is hard to make plans, only to cancel them because of a migraine. I live a maybe life. Maybe I can take my dog to the park, maybe I can go out to dinner, maybe.

I am tired of the maybe life. Of living a game of risk and of not knowing for sure if I will be in bed tomorrow with another migraine. I am not weak, my brain just hates me. Until you know what that feels like- don’t judge.

21 Things About Migraines Really Feel Like, From People Who Get Them

1. “Every single sound seems to be coming at me from a loud speaker, and every movement makes my stomach feel like I’ve been on some horrible roller coaster.” — Jacob Christie Martinez

2. “Once the pain fades, it feels like I ran a marathon. My body is exhausted.” — Instagram user niners07153

“Once the pain fades, it feels like I ran a marathon. My body is exhausted.” — Instagram user niners07153

3. “Light is like a million needles sticking you in the eyes. Sounds are amplified as if you’re in the front row of a rock concert. Did I mention it’s a band you hate? Smells that you normally find delightful make your stomach turn. The thought of food leaves you searching for a wastebasket. But the hardest part is the pounding in your head. It’s so intense, so debilitating, it makes you question your existence.” — Jennifer Hines

4. “I can’t think. All I feel is the pain and then the fear of the nausea. And then the nausea. It becomes my entire focus to get home to bed and away from everyone. It has and will ruin some of my best days, and I hate that.” — Instagram user khmoore70

5. “I gave birth vaginally with no drugs. It hurt like hell. I’d rather do that again anytime that have a migraine. At least with birth I know it’s going to end at some point.” — Instagram user keelybelle.uk

6. “My head feels like it is in a vice grip, and someone just keeps tightening it slowly all day.” — Theresa Turner

“My head feels like it is in a vice grip, and someone just keeps tightening it slowly all day.” — Theresa Turner

7. “Light sensitivity means the blinds are closed, electronics are off and I’m not leaving the house unless I have no other choice.” — Kara Cardoza

8. “It’s as if your head has a giant bell over it, and someone is hitting the bell with a sledgehammer, and each hit is only a blink of an eye. All sound, light and scents are in overdrive with no sense of control or hope for relief because the pain just shoots throughout your entire body.” — Instagram user monchikins

9. “Everything is brighter, louder and smells stronger.” — Katie Louise Krzyzanowski

10. “Imagine the onset of the burning pain when you get a shot and feel the medicine spreading. Then imagine that amplified to an intensity that is white hot in pain and never-ending. Once you have that idea of pain, imagine that simple onset you have at a shot and then it shooting to that white-hot pain level you thought of — all over your head, neck and eyes. Imagine a child sitting straight on your chest when you’re trying to breathe, staring into the sunlight every time you see light, the feeling of being stuck in the tilt-o-whirl and not being able to get off every time you stand, headphones stuck in your ears that have the volume turned way up too loud every time you hear a single sound, and the pain and nausea of food poisoning in your stomach every time you eat or even smell food. All that? At the same time. Every day. Imagine that and tell me you’d be able to just shake it off and continue on through life. The thing is — if you haven’t had a migraine, you can’t imagine it. Not really.” — Instagram user littletechiebird

11. “My migraines are debilitating. I cannot think, talk, walk, etc. It feels like my head is going to pop off. You tell me I can still do my daily routine, but I cant. It’s not an excuse, it’s a reality.” — Corvette Shannon

It's not an excuse, it’s a reality.” — Corvette Shannon

12. “It’s next to impossible to be functional. When the aura starts, I want to cry, because I know the agony I’m about to endure for at least the rest of the day. Possibly longer.” — Gina Anton

13. “If you’ve ever had a brain freeze, that’s what it feels like, but it last for hours or days.” — Instagram user gloria_indy

14. “Here’s the best description I can give:

An incessant storm

In my brain

Thundering drums

And raging pain

Scattered bursts

Of scintillating light

Wreaking havoc

With my sight

Endless torment

You can’t see

An invisible storm

Inside of me

— Selena Marie Wilson

15. “It feels like your brain is too big for your skull, so it’s pushing to get out. Sometimes I swear something is pushing on my actual brain.” — Instagram user jenboard40

16. “For me, it usually feels like someone is trying to scoop my left eye out with a spoon. All day, every day after day after day.” — Cary Rice Schwent

17. “Like a hangover with no alcohol — low blood sugar, sore head and nauseous.” — Instagram user 16beast16

18. “The last really painful one affected every part of me. And after it eased up, my arms and legs didn’t even feel like they were mine. It felt as if I had concrete running through my veins instead of blood.” — Conny Shows

19. “Like someone jammed a knife into your skull and you feel the pressure building. And then to be extra cruel, they are twisting the knife from time to time. Meanwhile, their cohort is messing with the lights and making the room spin.” — Instagram user ilovebunnybutts

20. “There’s a thunderstorm inside your head: you have a visual aura with flashing lines and spots, and any noise echoes inside your head, like thunder, making your head pound and the room seem to spin with every clap.” — Laura Vago

"There's a thunderstorm inside your head."

21. “I say: ‘What is the worst pain you ever felt?’ They say: ‘When I broke my leg.’ I say: ‘Well, imagine the amount of pain you had the second you broke it, but then actually walking on it. That is the pain we feel when we have a migraine. This pain can last though days, weeks, months or years! But it is internal. We can go to doctors and endless hospital visits and take medications, but it can all end in more pain. Now add all the other symptoms we have to live with on top of the pain. Dizziness, fatigue, aura, nausea, etc. Now add that people don’t believe you because you hide all of it behind a smile. You have to live your life normally with the fear of falling behind or having a pain that might come at a unknown time. Now you understand?’” — Instagram user migraine_fighters

29 Things Only Someone with Severe Migraines Would Understand

1. You know it’s way, way more than just a “bad headache.”

not just a headache

2. You heard about how doctors used to drill holes into patients’ heads and thought: “Maybe that’s not a terrible idea…”


3. A bird chirping is not your idea of a pleasant morning.

bird chirping

4. You don’t need a near-death experience to “see the light.”

see the light

5. You don’t need to ride the Tea Cups at Disneyland to feel horribly dizzy.

teacups ride dizzy

6. You’ve spent enough time sitting in dark rooms alone that you feel like a less exciting Batman.


7. You blurt out “No!” before someone can finish asking “Are you sure it’s not —”

are you sure

8. That dog that won’t stop barking next door sounds like it has a gateway to your brain.

dog barking

9. Just looking at a jackhammer makes your head bang.

jack hammer

10. You often struggle to concentrate, but don’t have ADHD.

hard to concentrate

11. There are painkillers, and then there are pills that actually kill the pain.

pain killers

12. Unlike granola, migraines are the worst when they come in clusters.

cluster migraines

13. It’s like giving birth without any joy, just pain.

like giving birth

14. There’s nothing silent about a “silent” migraine.

silent migraines

15. Drinking to dull the pain only makes your head hurt more.

drinking with migraines

16. Coffee is not the best part of waking up.

cup of coffee

17. You know how exhausting it is to run a marathon, even though you’ve never actually run one.

marathon exhaustion

18. Smells can make a severe migraine worse, so don’t even THINK about coming over here with that popcorn or salami, pal.

sensitive to smells

19. Then again, migraines can sometimes make you crave weird food and – Hey, where are you going with that salami?!

crave weird food

20. They sometimes start with a euphoric feeling, which is like being handed a lollipop before being hit by a truck.

euphoric feeling

21. A severe migraine can make you so tired that … oh forget it, I’m too exhausted to think of a punch line.

punch line

22. Your face can go numb when you have a severe migraine, so now your head hurts and you’re drooling. Great.


23. A really bad one can make you turn as pale as a vampire. Only you won’t live forever or run really fast.

pale like a vampire

24. You’re pretty sure a bomb shelter isn’t quiet and dark enough.

bomb shelter

25. Someone has suggested an orgasm as a cure. Nice try, Don Juan. Now pull your pants back up.

don juan

26. A severe migraine can bring on speech disturbances. And your co-worker’s laughter at your sudden Cajun accent really doesn’t help things.

speech disturbances

27. The auras get so bad that you feel like you’re hallucinating. And not in the fun, Burning Man kind of way.


28. Severe migraines can last a week or more, so when you feel one coming on, you know that you can write off the rest of the month.

time off

29. After a really bad migraine, you always suspect another one is hiding right around the corner, like a sneaky, uncool ninja.


A New Piercing Cure Migraine and Anxiety: New Finding

According to the National Headache Foundation, more than 29 million Americans suffer from migraines and anxiety, and women are three times more likely to get them than men. They can be triggered by normal day-to-day tasks, such as eating specific foods, watching too much TV, fluorescent lighting, and excessive noise. They’re different for everyone and the yearning question is; what can you do to get rid of them?

Of course there is the obvious medication route, neurologists often prescribe anti-depressants to relieve them, and there are over the counter pills like Excedrin, which seldomly cut it. With much frustration migraine and anxiety sufferers have tried any alternative in the book, from switching their diets, to acupuncture, to meditation, to yoga, and back again with some success.
With an open mind these alternatives are capable of being the answer, and there is a new one on the market, which is simple, inexpensive, and doubles as a piece of jewelry.
The daith piercing is a small ring that pierces the inner cartilage of either ear, running through a pressure point, which for some will relive migraine and anxiety pain. It is a relatively new procedure, mainly preformed at tattoo and piercing shops with not many statistics to back it up yet.
Tammi Bergman, NP, of ERiver Neurology, who specializes in headache relief, says that she always encourages her patients to try things like this as alternative relief measures to medication.

“I haven’t really heard of it yet, none of my patients have done it,” she said. “It could just be too new, and in the blogs, but often that’s where these things get started.”
Medication for migraines and anxiety is not always the only answer, just like the alternative relief measures the medicine doesn’t always work, and many people are opposed to taking medicine on a daily basis.
“We don’t even have hard statistics on the medications for migraines and anxiety that are approved by the FDA, so whenever you can do without it, it’s always a great thing. So if a patient is open minded I say go for it,” she said.
Kimberly Glatz, 24, has been suffering from migraines and anxiety for over a year now. She got the daith piercing done last month.

“Before I got it done my headaches were really, really bad. Terrible. Just extremely painful,” she said. “Now, I’ve seen some difference, I don’t know if it’s from the piercing or not. I can’t exactly pin point what changed my headaches, but I’ve definitely seen an improvement and it’s worth trying,” she said.
Dave Kurlander, owner of the Tempest Artistic Studio in Hopewell Junction, NY performs the daith piercing on clients, and he truly believes it’s the way to go.
“I’ve had many people come to me looking for migraine relief. It’s a much cheaper alternative to medicine and even acupuncture, and many of their doctors recommend it to them, and if you’re into piercings that’s even better.”
The piercing from start to finish is about a 10-minute process, it’s a one-time deal, and costs approximately $45. As opposed to acupuncture, which can become a lengthy, time consuming process, and be quite expensive.
“Essentially it’s the same concept as acupuncture, the piercing hits a pressure point which then relieves the pressure in your head. I recommend getting it done on the ear that corresponds with the side of your head where most of your migraines hit,” he said.
But the pressing question is, if there are no facts behind this than how can we know if it really works or not. Tammi Bergman says that you have to believe in migraine and anxiety relief, in the alternatives and in the medication.
“Sometimes relief of migraines and anxiety is psychological, but that’s not a bad thing, it’s a mind-set. Sometimes you really have to believe it for it to work,” she said.
In the long run it’s a toss up, it may not cure your headaches but you will be left with an ear piercing. Hey, you win some you lose some right?