Many people suffer from headaches, with migraines making up a particularly severe form that can greatly affect quality of life. Anecdotally, we’ve all heard about people who suffered migraines and later found out they had severe high blood pressure that damaged the kidneys. But what does the science show? Are migraines linked to high blood pressure? This possible connection has been a subject of interest for many years and the results are actually conflicting. What complicates this issue further is that some blood pressure medications can cause headaches, while others are used in its prevention.
Tension-type headaches are the most common type of headache. They are mild to moderate and cause a vise-like pressure band around the head and neck. Migraines, on the other hand, are severe, pulsating headaches that can be accompanied by an aura or pre-headache. They have been found to be associated with a higher risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke.
Some studies show that hypertension is present in about a third of those with all types of headaches. More than half of those with chronic tension headaches have hypertension that is independent of the headaches. Hypertension is less common in people with migraines. When the effects of the individual components of blood pressure were studied, it was found that the systolic pressure (top number of a blood pressure reading that measures pressure when the heart is pumping blood around the body) had either no correlation or was actually inversely related to migraine episodes. Diastolic blood pressure (bottom number in a blood pressure reading that measures pressure when the heart is resting between beats), however, is positively correlated, especially in women.
Some blood pressure medications, such as calcium channel blockers, beta-blockers, and, most recently, angiotensin-receptor blockers (ARBs), reduce the frequency of migraine episodes. Traditionally, beta blockers such as propranolol and metoprolol as well as verapamil, calcium channel blocker, have been used for prophylaxis of migraine headaches. This use of blood-pressure lowering drugs to treat migraines leads to more confusion as to how these diseases are related.
The research on this topic does not all point to the same conclusions. Studies besides the ones previously mentioned have shown that headaches of all types are not associated with hypertension and that people with normal blood pressures are at a greater risk of migraines than those with hypertension. As the definitions of high blood pressure and headaches continue to change, the correlation between them will change as well.
Bottom Line? Migraine headaches and hypertension are not necessarily linked, but their treatments could be linked. Since pain raises blood pressure, don’t get your pressure checked when you’re having a migraine. Definitely do get it checked regularly, so you can be sure to get your blood pressure under control and prevent kidney damage and other serious issues caused by high blood pressure.