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Does High Blood Pressure Cause Migraines

by Kristin Beck
Does High Blood Pressure Cause Migraines

Does High Blood Pressure Cause Migraines

“Migraine headaches are notoriously difficult to treat. Most of us know what it’s like to wake up one morning feeling as though your head has been under an industrial-sized hair dryer for hours on end. You roll over, groggy and grumpy, only to find that you’re experiencing a migraine headache. It seems impossible to make yourself feel any better until lunchtime rolls around and you down half a sandwich at your desk while trying not to vomit in the ladies’ room. If this sounds familiar, then you may have noticed that your migraines seem to be getting worse lately. And if so, you might also notice that your doctor recently added hypertension (high blood pressure) to your list of health problems. But is there really a connection? Is high blood pressure causing migraines? The answer isn’t a simple yes or no, although some evidence suggests there could be a correlation. Before we discuss how high blood pressure can lead to migraines, let’s take a closer look at both conditions.
High blood pressure — defined by the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute as 140/90 mm Hg or higher for those who aren’t taking medication to lower their blood pressure — affects more than 50 million Americans. Those numbers are scary because they signify potentially serious health complications such as heart attack, stroke, kidney disease, eye damage, nerve damage and dementia. In addition, high blood pressure is linked to increased risk of death from all causes; in fact, people with high blood pressure are four times more likely to die early due to cardiovascular diseases than those without high blood pressure [sources: American Cancer Society, Centers for Disease Control].
Although high blood pressure doesn’t directly kill its victims, it does affect many other parts of our bodies negatively. For example, high blood pressure can weaken the lining inside arteries, which allows cholesterol to build up and form plaques. These plaques narrow blood vessels over time, reducing circulation throughout the body. As circulation slows, oxygen levels drop, leading to cell and tissue damage, including brain cells damaged during a migraine. A lack of oxygen in turn inhibits normal function within the brain, resulting in symptoms such as nausea, sensitivity to light, sound and smell, drowsiness and even hallucinations.
As frustrating as these effects can be, research shows that treating high blood pressure can improve one’s quality of life considerably. In fact, studies show that controlling high blood pressure can reduce the chances of having a stroke by 65 percent, coronary artery disease by 40 percent and peripheral vascular diseases by as much as 80 percent. So is there a link between migraines and high blood pressure? Read on to find out.
Is There a Link Between Migraines and Hypertension?
One study published in July 2011 showed that about 30 percent of participants reported a history of migraine headaches, and almost 20 percent of them had experienced worsening headaches since being diagnosed with hypertension. Another large-scale study found that women aged 45-59 were twice as likely to develop hypertension after suffering migraines compared to women who didn’t suffer migraines. Taken together, these findings suggest a strong link between migraines and high blood pressure. However, experts caution against jumping to conclusions based solely on these results.
First, remember that migraines aren’t caused by high blood pressure alone — they’re caused by several factors working together. Second, hypertension actually refers to high blood pressure readings taken at rest. During a typical day, however, blood pressure fluctuates. When blood pressure is measured using a sphygmomanometer (a device used to measure systolic and diastolic pressures), it’s usually done when a person is awake, sitting upright and relaxed. Taking measurements this way makes things easier for doctors and patients alike. Third, the data showing a link between migraines and hypertension was collected from surveys filled out by people who already suffered from high blood pressure. Therefore, the sample size of participants is small, making the results less reliable. Also, none of these studies looked into whether treating hypertension would help prevent migraines. Finally, all of these studies were conducted in Western countries, meaning results may differ in other cultures.
While the potential link between migraines and hypertension remains unclear, knowing this information will hopefully help you understand why you experience migraines sometimes and how best to cope with them.
For those who don’t want to wait for their next migraine to see if it improves with treatment, here are some tips to consider:
Stress management techniques. Stress often worsens migraines, so try relaxation techniques such as yoga, meditation or deep breathing exercises. Avoid caffeine, alcohol and cigarettes, which can worsen stress. Exercise regularly, and eat well.

Avoid triggers. Identify environmental and lifestyle factors that trigger migraines, such as bright lights, noise, smells and foods containing MSG or sulfites. Try to avoid these triggers whenever possible.

Try preventive medications. Some drugs such as beta blockers, calcium channel blockers, antidepressants and anticonvulsants can prevent migraine attacks. Talk to your physician before adding any new medicines to your regimen.

Consider dietary changes. Foods rich in antioxidants, omega-3 fatty acids and magnesium can help decrease inflammation and protect neurons from oxidation. Eat lots of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, fish and nuts. Avoid processed meats and trans fats.


Learn more about migraines — and ways to cope with them — by visiting the links on the following page.
If you think you’ve got a migraine coming on, you should act fast. Headaches are bad enough on their own, but when left untreated, severe pain from migraines increases dramatically. Once you start feeling a migraine coming on, lie down and elevate the head of your bed six inches or sit in a dark place where you won’t be disturbed. Drink plenty of fluids to keep hydrated. Take acetaminophen (Tylenol) or aspirin for relief of throbbing pain. Apply cold compresses on your forehead, temples and back of neck. Get into a cool bathtub or shower to relax. Call your doctor right away if the pain becomes unbearable. He or she may prescribe stronger prescription medications for your migraine.”


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