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Migraine Headaches are Caused by a Heart Defect

There are over 100 different types of headache and even multiple types of migraine, but there is a theory that some people with migraines (the kind with aura) suffer from a heart defect called patent foramen ovale (PFO). Before a baby is born, the heart's upper chambers (right and left atria) are connected by a little hole called the PFO, which usually closes on its own when the baby is born. However, about a quarter of us have a PFO that never quite closes, allowing some blood flow back and forth from right to left atrium. Clinical trials are underway to see if repairing an open PFO can reduce migraines. The theory is that "dirty blood" from the right side might slosh over to the left and circumvent its cleansing process, taking impurities to the brain.

Here are the facts so far:

  • PFO occurs in about 25% of the general population but in up to 60% of people who have migraine with aura.
  • People with known PFO are at five times the risk for migraine as people without PFO.
  • Some early studies found that closing the PFO (a surgical procedure) eliminated migraines in many (but not all) patients.