GPs are being urged to pay special attention to patients who suffer classic migraine as they could be at increased risk of suffering a stroke or a heart attack.
The link between classic migraine – or migraine with aura – and cardiovascular events is strong, even in patients who do not have high blood pressure or cholesterol, according to Professor Tobias Kurth, a leading neuroepidemiologist from Harvard Medical School in the US.
Speaking at the European Headache and Migraine Trust International Congress 2008 in London, Professor Kurth said recent research shows classic migraine is associated with an increased risk of stroke, angina and heart attack.
Some 1.2 million people in the UK suffer this type of migraine, which can present symptoms including seeing zigzags or spots and feeling numbness.
"We should consider migraine with aura when we look at a person's risk of having a stroke or a heart attack," Professor Kurth said.
"You may think that a person is at low risk because they don't have high blood pressure or cholesterol, but data suggest that having migraine with aura can increase the risk of cardiovascular events even among apparently healthy individuals with a low cardiovascular risk profile."
He advised doctors to discourage young women with classic migraine from smoking, and to discuss alternatives to the birth control pill.