Visual aura migraines linked to irregular heartbeat
People who suffer from migraines with visual aura experience disturbances in their vision before the head pain begins. These disturbances include seeing wavy lines, flashes of light, blurry vision or blind spots. Previous research has linked migraine with aura and the risk of stroke. Atrial fibrillation, a form of arrhythmia — when the heart’s normal rhythm is irregular — is a common source of stroke. When the heart is beating at an abnormal rhythm, blood may pool in the heart, possibly forming blood clots that may enter the brain and cause a stroke. Thus, researchers from the University of South Carolina in Columbia wanted to examine if people who have migraines with visual auras have a higher rate of atrial fibrillation.
People experiencing migraine with aura were 30 per cent more likely to develop atrial fibrillation than people who did not have headaches.
For this study, the researchers evaluated 11,939 people for headaches. The participants had no prior atrial fibrillation or stroke and were of an average age of 60 years. The participants were interviewed for migraine history in 1993 to 1995 and were followed for incident atrial fibrillation through 2013. Mediation analysis was conducted to test whether atrial fibrillation was a mediator of a migraine with visual aura-associated stroke risk.
Out of all the participants, 9405 did not have a headache and 1516 had a migraine. Of those who had a migraine, 426 had a migraine with visual aura. The participants were followed for up to 20 years and it was found that 1623 people (17 per cent) without a headache developed atrial fibrillation, while 80 of 440 people with a migraine with aura (18 per cent) developed the condition and also 152 of 1105 people (14 per cent) with a migraine without aura developed atrial fibrillation. After adjusting for age, sex, blood pressure, smoking and other factors that could affect risk of atrial fibrillation, people experiencing migraine with aura were 30 per cent more likely to develop atrial fibrillation than people who did not have headaches and 40 per cent more likely to develop the condition than people with migraine with no aura. The researchers also found that the rate of stroke in the people with aura migraines was four out of 1000 people annually compared to two out of 1000 people annually in those with a migraine but without aura, as well as three of 1000 people annually in those with no headache.
The findings suggest that people who suffer from migraines with visual aura are at a higher risk of atrial fibrillation, which can potentially lead to stroke.
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