A warning to doctors over heart attack risks associated with migraine with aura has been sounded by a leading neuroepidemiologist at Harvard Medical School in the US.
Professor Tobias Kurth said young women who have migraine and smoke are eight times more likely to suffer a stroke compared to young female smokers who don't suffer from migraine.
He said: "Doctors should try to reduce cardiovascular risk factors and strongly advise young women who experience migraine with aura not to smoke. Additionally, birth control pill alternatives should be discussed."
Women aged 45 and older also face a four-fold increased risk of stroke even if they had a low cardiovascular risk profile, including low cholesterol levels.
He told the European Headache and Migraine Trust International Congress 2008 (EHMTIC) that migraines, which affect 1.2m people in the UK, are associated with an increased risk of stroke, angina and heart attack.
Symptoms include seeing zigzags or spots and feeling numbness. They occur in adults before the headache, but in children they may be simultaneous.
He said the links between migraine and cardiovascular events are now so strong that GPs need to take them seriously.
"I have suffered from migraine ever since I was a child. I did not know until 2003 that I was born with a hole in my heart. I had open-heart surgery in 2006 and have not had any migraine attacks since a month after the surgery. I am 74 now and am still working" – Margaret, Essex