Migraines that Affect Vision May Increase Risk of Atrial Fibrillation


People who experience migraine with visual aura may have an increased risk of atrial fibrillation (AFib), according to a study published in Neurology

Participants in thelongitudinal, community-based Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities (ARIC) (NCT00005131) study—11,939 people with an average age of 60 and no prior AFib or stroke—were evaluated for headache. Of those, 9,405 did not have headache and 1,516 had migraine. Of those with migraine, 426 had visual aura. 

During the study, which followed participants for up to 20 years, Afib occurred in 17% (1,623 of 9,405) of people without headache, 18% of those with migraine with aura (80 of 440), and 14% (152/1,105) of those who had migraine without aura. 

After adjusting for age, sex, blood pressure, smoking, and other factors that could affect risk of AFib, people who had migraine with aura were 30% more likely to develop the condition than those who did not have headaches, and 40% more likely to develop AFib than people who had migraine with no aura. 

The results showed that about 9 out of 1,000 people with migraine with aura have AFib compared to 7 out of 1,000 people who have migraine without aura. The rate of stroke in the migraine with aura group was 4 of 1,000 people compared to 2 of 1,000 people in those with migraine without aura. 

“Our research suggests that atrial fibrillation may play a role in stroke in those with migraine with visual aura,” said study author Souvik Sen, MD, MS, MPH, of the University of South Carolina in Columbia. “It is important to note that people with migraine with aura may be at a higher risk of atrial fibrillation due to problems with the autonomic nervous system. More research is needed to determine if people with migraine with visual aura should be screened for atrial fibrillation.”

A limitation of the study, which was supported by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute and the American Heart Association, was that the definition of migraine may have excluded people who had migraines for a period of less than 1 year or a history of migraine at younger ages. Also, there was limited information on migraine medications that may influence heart rate.


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