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Study warns against migraine medication for heart disease patients

Migrane sufferers with heart problems should avoid certain anti-migrane medications, according to a new study  
July 11, 1998
Web posted at: 2:13 p.m. EDT (1813 GMT)

(CNN) -- Migraine headache sufferers with heart disease should avoid certain anti-migraine medications, according to a recent study published in Circulation, a journal of the American Heart Association.

Migraine headaches are caused by a dilation of blood vessels in the head that causes a severe, pounding pain. Medications to treat the headache cause the blood vessels to constrict or narrow.

"Unfortunately, these medications aren't smart enough to exert their effect just on the head vessels," said Jonathan L. Halperin, a cardiologist at Mount Sinai Medical Center. "Sometimes they exert the constrictor effect on the arteries that feed the blood to the heart muscle."

The low blood flow can cause chest pain and possibly a heart attack.

"The people who are greatest at risk are patients who have migraines accompanied by heart artery blockages," said Halperin. "They might have angina or have had a history of a heart attack."

But a patient doesn't have to have heart disease to suffer the side effects of potent migraine medications.

Migraine sufferer Darcy Spitz doesn't have heart disease but said she experienced the side effects anyway.

"I got a crushing crest pain, a really uncomfortable feeling in my jaw and I began to sweat profusely," she said. "I began to feel like I was trading one kind of pain for another kind of pain."

Researchers said the narrowing effect of some older migraine medications lasts longer than some of the newer ones, but both have the potential to cause dangerous side effects.

There are alternatives to the medications that constrict blood vessels. Some heart medications help to ward off migraine attacks before they happen.

Health experts said they advise a full evaluation by a physician to find out which treatment is best.

CNN Medical Correspondent Dr. Steve Salvatore contributed to this report.

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