May 16, 2007
Middle-aged men and women with a history of migraine and other headaches are more likely to have retinopathy, damage to the retina of the eye which can lead to severe vision problems or blindness, than those without a history of headaches, according to a study from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

For the study, published in the May 15, 2007, issue of Neurology, researchers reviewed the headache history and eye health of 10,902 men and women who participated in the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities (ARIC) study. Participants, who were from communities in Maryland, Minnesota, Mississippi and North Carolina, were black and white and between the ages of 51 and 71 at the time of their examination.

Twenty-two percent of the participants had a history of migraine or other headaches. Those with a history of headaches were slightly younger, more likely to be female, and more likely to be white than those without a history of headaches.

The study found people with headaches were between 1.3 and 1.5 times more likely to have retinopathy than those without headaches. Among participants who did not have a history of diabetes or hypertension, the association was stronger and limited to those with migraine headaches and other headaches with aura (visual disturbances).

Photograph of Kathryn M. Rose

Photograph of Kathryn M. Rose

“Middle-aged people with a history of migraine and other headaches are more likely to have retinopathy,” said the study’s lead author Kathryn M. Rose, research assistant professor of epidemiology at the UNC School of Public Health. “This association persisted after controlling for diabetes, glucose levels, cigarette smoking, blood pressure and use of blood pressure medications.”

“Our findings suggest that problems in the circulatory system of small blood vessels may be an underlying factor. This is possible given that anatomically and physiologically small blood vessels in the retina and brain are similar,” said Rose. “Our findings are also consistent with previous studies linking migraine and retinopathy with the occurrence of stroke.”

Photograph of David Couper

Photograph of David Couper

Other study authors are: Dr. Tien Yin Wong, professor of ophthalmology, Centre for Eye Research Australia, University of Melbourne; April P. Carson, former postdoctoral fellow, and David Couper, biostatistics associate professor, UNC School of Public Health; Dr. Ronald Klein, professor of ophthalmology and visual sciences, University of Wisconsin Medical School; Dr. A Richey Sharrett, adjunct professor of epidemiology, Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health.

The ARIC study was supported by the National Heart, Blood, and Lung Institute of the National Institutes of Health.

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For more information about the American Academy of Neurology, visit

Note: Kathryn Rose can be reached at (919) 966-4596 or

School of Public Health contact: Ramona DuBose, (919) 966-7467 or

News Services contact: Clinton Colmenares, (919) 843-1991 or



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