By now, if your neurologist has not discussed a link between your chronic migraine headaches and your heart, it might be time to find a new one.
This is not a new link, but it seems like the headache treatment community has been attempting to keep it secret. Or worse, they are so disconnected from the medical literature that they are still telling their migraine patients that we don’t know what causes migraines. Before we get to the meat of this article, we do need to bring up the blood vessel theory of migraine headaches. Long ago headache specialists believed that chronic migraine headaches were caused by an event that led to constriction of the blood vessels (the cutting off of blood to certain regions of the brain from this constriction was believed to cause the aura associated with the headache). The body then counteracted the constriction by forcing the blood vessels open again, leading to rebound dilation of the blood vessels. This overexpansion of the blood vessels pressing on nerves in the brain was believed to cause the pounding headache of a migraine.
From this theory, the development of drugs of the 5-HT agonist class (drugs like the triptans used heavily to control the pain of migraines–notice I did not say “treat…”) that helps to shrink the blood vessels back down again.
With this history in mind, when I mention that chronic migraine headaches are strongly linked to problems with the blood vessels, I am NOT talking about the theory noted above. Rather, I am talking about vascular health. The inside lining of the blood vessels of your body is called the endothelium. Endothelial dysfunction refers to a condition where the blood vessels no longer react the way they should. In general, there is an imbalance between substances that help open and close the blood vessels when needed. This begins to disrupt the normal functions like clotting, immune function and ability to control the diameter of the blood vessel.
Poor vascular health is the precursor to, and begins years and years before, heart disease, stroke and dementia. And, most importantly, this is a process that occurs in ALL of the blood vessels, not just the blood vessels of the heart or just the vessels of your pinky finger. Or, relevant to this article, the brain.
THIS is why migraines are not, and have never been, a problem in the head. This is just where you feel the most notable symptom first. Let poor vascular health leading to chronic migraine headaches go on for years and heart attacks, strokes or dementia are sure to follow.
Any headache specialist who does not understand this is NOT a headache specialist. They are, most likely, an expert in using medication to alleviate the pain of a migraine.
And just in case you think I’m surely mistaken because you’re never heard of this relationship before, I present this particular study. Researchers compared the blood flow in the heart of 40 patients with migraine to 35 healthy volunteers. Here’s what they found:
- In the chronic migraine headache patients, the blood flow reserve in the heart was about 1/3 less.
- In addition, blood flow through the left ventricle was reduced in the migraine group.
Basically, the endothelial dysfunction was causing problems with the blood flow through the heart. This is not a cardiac problem and it is not a headache problem; IT IS A BLOOD VESSEL PROBLEM. Until we begin to view chronic migraine headaches through this lens, we will never fix the problem. We will just manage it.
For those migraine sufferers looking for natural remedies for headaches via better vascular health, the most bang for your buck is going to be an anti-diabetic lifestyle. Diabetes and prediabetes destroys the blood vessels, contributing to endothelial dysfunction. For a more complete review, consider my Chronic Migraine Relief eBook or my Migraines and Seizures eBook, both available through Amazon.