Migraine Quiz

Cardiac Patients with Migraine

If you have heart disease, your options for migraine treatment are limited. Triptan medications should be avoided. This is because triptans can decrease the diameter of blood vessels which, if already narrowed by heart disease, can potentially restrict blood flow further and result in a heart attack. A recent study of over 120,000 people with migraine from 10 health plans revealed that 22% of people with a heart condition prohibiting the use of triptans were nevertheless given a triptan prescription.

Are these migraine-specific drugs unsafe for migraine sufferers without heart disease? Triptans are not known to cause heart disease, and can be safely taken as long as you do not have heart disease. Safety of these medications in migraineurs who have several risk factors for heart disease is not certain.

NSAID Risk in Cardiac Patients

Often, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications are offered for migraine pain instead of or in addition to triptan medications. However, you may not know that nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can be even more dangerous. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications can be a cause of risk, even amongst those without heart disease or its risk factors, but is especially risky in cardiovascular conditions. Conditions at particular risk are stroke, unstable angina, recent bypass surgery, or myocardial infarction. NSAIDs tend to elevate blood pressure, and this accounts for some of the cardiovascular risk. In those who already have atherosclerosis, the COX-2 NSAIDs also affect the balance of chemical factors affecting clot formation, tilting things toward clotting.

Using NSAIDs increases the risk of recurring myocardial infarctions. Even short term use--as little as seven days--can increase the risk of another myocardial infarction or death by about 50%. (Drugs used most commonly in this this study were ibuprofen, diclofenac, naproxen, rofecoxib, and celecoxib)

For those with known cardiovascular disease or risk factors for ischemic heart disease, aspirin, tramadol, or acetaminophen are the safest choices for the treatment of pain. Naproxen, although not risk-free, appears to be the safest choice in those who have not responded to these medications. Narcotic analgesics may be used as rescue medication.

NSAIDs should be avoided in those who have heart disease or heart failure. But what about migraine patients who do not have heart disease? Current recommendations are to weigh the benefits of these medications agains their risks. If over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medication is required for more than ten days, you should see a doctor. Also, be aware that ibuprofen can interfere with the ability of aspirin to provide protection against clotting, and should be taken either 30 minutes before or twelve hours after taking low-dose aspirin.

There is an unmet need for research for migraine-specific medications. Clearly, migraine sufferers with heart disease or stroke presently need to rely on an effective prevention regimen to minimize risks from medications designed for acute attacks.


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