Elevated Risk of Heart Disease in Migraine Still Not Understood

heart beat
heart beat
Shared genetic variants found in migraineurs were actually protective against heart disease.

Although some studies purport a genetic link between migraine and coronary artery disease, a new study published in Neurology Genetics suggests that genetics aren’t to blame for the increased risk of heart disease in people with migraine.

The findings were especially true for people with migraine with aura, in which researchers found no shared gene variants between migraine and heart disease indicative of increased risk. In fact, the shared gene variants that researchers did find actually protect against heart disease.

“This is surprising because the evidence is stronger that people with migraine with aura have an increased risk of heart disease than people with migraine without aura,” said Aarno Palotie, MD, of the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, in a press release.

The researchers performed cross-phenotype genetic analysis on data from 19,981 cases of migraine (56,667 controls) and 21,076 cases of coronary artery disease (63,014 controls). Following four types of analysis, the researchers found a significant overlap of genetic risk loci for migraine and coronary artery disease among people with migraine without aura, however the genetic overlap was protective, with patients with migraine without aura having a lower load of coronary artery disease risk alleles than controls. Some of the genes indicated in the analysis point to possible roles of endothelial dysfunction and insulin homeostasis as mechanisms.

The results only clouded previous research findings that indicate a connection between migraine and increased heart disease risk.

“We now need to understand why people with migraine who are born with a protective or neutral genetic risk for heart disease end up with an increased risk for heart problems,” said Anne Ducros, MD, PhD, of the University of Montpellier in France.

Ducros, who authored an accompanying editorial on the study, said that the findings may not have captured other genetic and non-genetic factors that could play a role in the link between migraine and coronary artery disease.

“For example, migraine has been associated with obesity, avoidance of exercise, smoking and depression, all of which increase the risk of heart disease,” she said in a press release. 


  1. Winsvold BS et al. Neurol Genet. 2015; doi:10.1212/NXG.0000000000000010.