Migraine Headaches and Heart Defects

Is your migraine headache caused by a heart defect? It’s possible!

Recent research has uncovered an interesting tidbit of information:  People with an Atrial Septal Defect (ASD) or a Patent Foramen Ovale (PFO) who suffer from migraines can see a reduction in the number and severity of headaches when their defect is closed.

Many people may go their entire lives with a ASD or PFO and never know they have it; or if it is detected, their doctor reports that the opening is so small that the best course of therapy is just to monitor it.  With advancing technology and improvement in Catheters, repair of the defect became more practical. The fact that migraine headaches faded or went away completely was a happy side effect of the repair.

It doesn’t always work – one study showed a small number of patients (4 out of 97) actually developed migraine symptoms (their headaches disappeared after several months) and there is at least one known case of a person who developed a migraine every day – with no relief of symptoms.

When I was younger, I averaged a “dizzy spell” per month – just a few moments when everything seemed to take a few steps to the right. Usually it cleared up in less than a minute, but at least once a year I could count on having a really bad bout of dizziness.

Everything would start spinning and it just wouldn’t stop. And it didn’t stop until I had thrown up. So I learned that rather than suffer until things happened naturally, it was best to shove a finger down my throat. Sorry if that thought turns your stomach, but I’d rather do that than to suffer.

Then one day while I was in college it hit me: Dizzy spell, and a bad one. But a friend and I had made plans to get dinner at one of our favorite restaurants that night, so I had a light lunch. A very light lunch – a soda and a pack of Nekots, if I remember correctly.

In case you didn’t know, you can’t throw up on an empty stomach. Finally after about two hours of the world spinning, I think my body just decided it had had enough and the dizzy spell let me go. I got back to my room and slept fourteen hours!

After I had my pacemaker installed, the dizzy spells went away. I haven’t had one since, not even a mild one. No one has ever figured out why, it’s just “one of those things!”

So if you are having migraines, ask your doctor about the possibility of you having an ASD or a PFO. A few days in the hospital getting the repair could end them!


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2 Responses to “Migraine Headaches and Heart Defects”

  1. Kelly Says:

    Great info Steve…I’m having an echo when we get back from Washington…James’ Dr.’s suggested all first degree relatives get checked. I’ve always had headaches but maybe only one migraine a year. Are there any stats on CHD kids and the incidence of their parents having a CHD? No one in our extended family seems to know which heart defects older generations had.

    • Steve Says:

      If there is any info on Cardiac Kids and parents with Migraines, I haven’t seen it. Some of those older generations, you may never know… before 1940, it was basically Rheumatic Fever and “Everything Else.” No one really had a clue until Helen Taussig began to study Malformed Hearts at Johns Hopkins.

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