Women who experience migraine with aura are at an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, including heart attack and stroke, according to new research.

In the latest study on this subject, researchers followed 27,860 women enrolled in the Women’s Health Study and examined the risk factors involved in the heart attacks, strokes and deaths from other cardiovascular-related causes over a 15-year period. Migraine with aura registered among the top factors linked to the development of cardiovascular disease.

“After high blood pressure, migraine with aura was the second strongest single contributor to the risk of heart attacks and strokes,” said lead author Tobias Kurth, MD, ScD, from the French National Institute of Health and Medical Research in France and Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.

Over the course of the study, 1,030 events related to cardiovascular disease occurred. High blood pressure and migraine with aura led the list of contributing factors, followed by diabetes, family history of premature myocardial infarction and high body mass index.

Other research has shown that migraine with aura is linked to an increased risk of stroke, but scientists do not fully understand the importance of migraine with aura in relationship to the traditionally known risk factors for cardiovascular disease. This study indicates that a combination of these factors places individuals most at risk of developing cardiovascular disease, but in relationship to them, migraine with aura is a strong contributor.

Researchers do not yet know if controlling migraine would reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. Additionally, researchers caution that this study did not establish cause and effect, so it is not clear if migraine with aura and heart disease are simply associated or if migraine with aura causes heart disease.

It is important that women who have migraine with aura understand they are not destined to develop cardiovascular disease, the authors stressed, but should work to lower their risk following the accepted methods such as not smoking, exercising, maintaining a healthy body weight and keeping blood pressure in check.

This study was presented at the American Academy of Neurology conference last month and has not yet been published.