Migraine Increases Cardiovascular Risks - Wear Red Friday!


Today, I want to talk directly with the women in my Migraine "family," but the men will want to read too because of the women they care about.

February is American Heart Month, and this Friday - February 3 - is National Wear Red Day. Wear Red Day is an observance sponsored by the American Heart Association during which women are encouraged to wear red, learn about heart disease and how to fight it, and share that information with others.

There's an additional reason this is important to women with Migraine disease. Research has shown that Migraine is tied to increased risk of cardiovascular disease and that Migraineurs are more likely to have diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol levels. While this research is NOT reason for panic on our part, it is reason for caution and taking precautions. You can read more about it in Migraine and CVD Risk: Is It Dangerous?

The bottom line when it comes to Migraine and risk of cardiovascular disease is that we need to know about cardiovascular disease, the risk factors, which ones we can reduce, and work with our doctors to reduce them.

Let's start with some information from the American Heart Association...

About heart disease - More women die from heart disease than all forms of cancer put together. Liek Migraine, heart disease is often silent, hidden, and misunderstood. Our lives, ladies, are in our own hands. We can stop heart disease, the number one killer of women, by sharing the truth and taking it seriously.

Some more facts from the American Heart Association:

  • While one in 31 American women dies from breast cancer each year, one in three dies of cardiovascular disease.
  • Currently, some eight million women in the U.S. are living with heart disease, yet only one in six American women believes that heart disease is her greatest health threat.
  • Ninety percent of women have one or more risk factors for developing heart disease.
  • In women, heart disease is too often a silent killer – less than a third of women in a recent survey reported any early warning signs such as chest pain or discomfort before a heart attack, compared with most men.
  • Only slightly more than half of women are likely to call 911 if experiencing symptoms. And yet, 79 percent of women said that they would call 911 if someone else was having a heart attack.

Now, about those risk factors. They include:

  1. High cholesterol can increase our risk for heart disease, heart attack, and stroke.
  2. Diabetes is a major risk factor for stroke and heart disease.
  3. High blood pressure raises the risk of stroke, heart attack, heart failure, and kidney failure.
  4. Oral contraceptives.
  5. Body Mass Index (BMI) is a good indicator of whether we're at a healthy or unhealthy weight.
  6. Smoking.

Many women don't know the warning signs of a heart attack. They can be different in women. They include:

  • Uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain in the center of your chest. It lasts more than a few minutes, or goes away and comes back.
  • Pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach.
  • Shortness of breath with or without chest discomfort.
  • Other signs such as breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea or lightheadedness.
  • As with men, women’s most common heart attack symptom is chest pain or discomfort. But women are somewhat more likely than men to experience some of the other common symptoms, particularly shortness of breath, nausea/vomiting and back or jaw pain.

If you have any of these signs, don’t wait more than five minutes before calling for help. Call 911. Get to a hospital right away.

It's handled with a touch of humor, but this is an excellent video about women and the signs of a heart attack:

Time to share:

In 2004, I was sent for a routine EKG. I thought nothing of it - had it done and went on my way. A few days later, I was sitting at the salon getting my hair cut when my family doctor called me on my cell phone. Imagine my shock when he told me that the EKG had shown evidence of a heart attack and gave me a day and time to go see a cardiologist! Cardiac catheterization (NOT a pleasant experience) confirmed the heart attack. Thinking back, I could remember some chest pains, but they had been like those I'd had from gastroesophogeal reflux, so I'd dismissed them. I'd also dismissed some back and jaw pain that had occurred at the same time.

I had five of the six risk factors listed above. Some of them were addressed and controlled, but not all. Obviously, I didn't understand the signs of heart attack in women or I would probably have realized I'd had a heart attack. I was fortunate that the heart attack didn't do more or more serious damage to my heart. As it is, I'll be taking medications for my heart every day for the rest of my life. When I get pain or discomfort in the middle of my chest, it's frightening. Is it indigestion or my heart? Sometimes it's my heart - angina. When that happens, I have nitroglycerin tablets and instructions from my doctor about taking them and when it's time to call 911. Oh, another lesson I had to learn - if you need to go to the hospital, call 911 rather than having someone drive you to the ER. When the nitroglycerin didn't stop the angina one evening, and I had my husband drive me to the ER, they were not pleased with me. They pointed out that if we'd called for an ambulance, the paramedics could have started treatment on the way to the hospital, and that I should always call 911 rather than trying to get myself to the hospital.

On Friday, please wear red and take some time to learn about and think about heart health? There truly are so many things we can do for ourselves in this area. I wish I'd learnd about them and done them myself BEFORE I had a heart attack.

For more information on National Wear Red Day and women and heart disease, check out www.WearRedForWomen.org.


Live well,



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© Teri Robert, 2012
Last updated January 31, 2012.