Individuals with a documented history of migraine headaches are more susceptible to retinopathy, according to a study in the May issue of Neurology.

Researchers from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill examined 10,902 middle-aged men and women (both Caucasian and African American) as part of the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities Study. Nearly 22% of the subjects had a history of migraines. The study concluded that people with a history of headaches were 1.3 to 1.5 times more likely to have retinopathy than individuals without a history of headaches.

Lead author Kathryn M. Rose, Ph.D., believes that blood vessel constriction and poor circulation may be underlying factors in the relationship between migraines and retinopathy.

The researchers also found that that younger, white females tended to suffer from migraines more than any other demographic cluster. Leonid Skorin Jr., O.D., D.O., of the Albert Lea Eye Clinic in Minnesota, agrees and says that women are up to three times more likely to suffer from migraines than men. However, a family history of migraines is one of the greatest factors in determining which individuals are most likely to endure these debilitating headaches, he adds.

Migraines are often initiated by a specific mechanism, or trigger. Triggers include sustention of excessive stress, lengthy exposure to bright or pulsating lights, excessive physical exertion and/or low blood sugar levels. Ingestion of caffeinated beverages, red wine and smoked meats may also serve as triggers. However, patients who are genetically prone to the condition may not necessarily experience a trigger before the onset of a migraine.

Optometrists should instruct their patients to limit exposure to such potential triggers, Dr. Skorin says. Adjustments to lighting at your office desk or frequent breaks while laboring outside in warm, humid conditions may significantly reduce an individuals risk for migraines. Also, prompt treatment when the first symptoms of a migraine appear will likely decrease both the amount of pain and permanent damage the individual suffers, Dr. Skorin adds.

Given the potential for severe vision damage from retinopathy, optometrists should be aware if any of their patients have an extensive history of migraine headaches, Dr. Skorin says.


Rose KM, Wong TY, Carson AP, et al. Migraine and retinal microvascular abnormalities: the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities Study. Neurology 2007 May 15;68(20):1694-700.

Vol. No: 144:06Issue: 6/15/2007