Migraine tendencies in a person’s genetic makeup may contribute to a higher heart attack risk for some women – but not all migraine genes, and not all types of migraines, says a new report in the journal, Neurology.
Scientists followed the health histories of 25,000 women health professionals over 12 years, looking for genetic markers that might predispose them to migraine or heart problems and correlating the data to actual events. The link between migraines and heart trouble has long been noted, and the researchers wanted to see if they could couple any genetic tendencies for migraine to a risk of heart disease.
They discovered that migraines accompanied by the ‘aura’ phenomenon – blurring or distortions around objects before and during a migraine attack – coincided with a doubling of the risk of stroke or heart attack in some women, but not others. Researchers were tracing several gene variants that control the body’s production of angiotensin-producing enzyme; drugs known as ACE inhibitors effectively treat both heart patients and migraine sufferers, which pointed scientists in the direction of the possible link.
Women with one gene variant had no increase of heart problems connected to migraines with or without auras. The other two gene variants did not, by themselves, predispose women to getting either migraines or heart trouble. However, women who experienced migraines with aura, and who had either of the latter two gene variants, were at twice the risk of experiencing a heart attack or stroke.
The scientists expressed surprise at the unexpected results, and stressed that more work needs to be done. The intricacy of our genetic design, and how it relates to disease processes, is only just beginning to be studied and understood. Most genetic studies today are journeys of exploration, rather than studies to pinpoint cause and cure. Those will come later, when more is known about the mysterious causal relationships at work in genetics.
However, it is clear that the genetic targeting of medications, treatment, and health advice will one day be a staple of the modern medical toolkit. One day studies like these may lead to precise treatments for migraine – and throw in heart attack prevention to boot.