Harvard Medicine

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Tricks of the Light

Migraines with auras provide early warnings of increased risk.

For spiritualists, auras are said to provide luminous insight, but for those who suffer migraines, auras can have sinister connotations. Nearly 20 percent of the population suffers these devastating headaches, with one-third experiencing premigraine visual disturbances. Past studies have linked migraines with aura to an increased risk for a vascular ischemic event. But a study of more than 27,000 women in the January 2010 issue of Headache found more nuanced associations.

Led by Markus Schürks, an HMS instructor of medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, researchers found a doubled risk for cardiovascular disease, myocardial infarction, and ischemic stroke among women who experience migraines with auras compared with those with aura-free migraines. The findings, says Schürks, suggest that women with aura-plagued migraines should avoid smoking and contraceptives with estrogen.


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