There is a 50-75% chance that you will experience migraines if one or both of your parents have them. Furthermore, 80% of those with migraines have at least one close relative who also experiences the disorder.
In other words, migraines can be hereditary.
What Makes Migraines Hereditary?
It’s important to understand that a person’s unique DNA does not directly cause them to experience migraines.
Instead, everyone’s body simply has a unique way of functioning because of their DNA. With this in mind, someone who suffers from migraine headaches has a body that functions in a way where migraines are more likely to affect them.
Researchers and scientists do not completely understand the relationship between genetics and migraines, nor do they understand exactly why non-familial migraines occur. Still, a recent gene-sequencing technology has found several specific genes or gene mutations that may be responsible for familial migraines. The technology being used for this research is called Genome-Wide Association Study, or GWAS.
GWAS has discovered several unique gene mutations that may be linked with migraines. For example, some research has led scientists to believe that an excess of messages coming from the brain could contribute to migraines. When this is happening, the brain is accumulating a special neurotransmitter called glutamate. There are unique gene mutations that could be causing an excess accumulation of glutamate.
Scientists, therefore, believe that those who have these glutamate-accumulating gene mutations could be experiencing migraines as a result.
Are All Migraines Hereditary?
The short answer is no. Migraines can be hereditary, suggesting an underlying genetic cause. Many genes have been linked to migraines, but some genes are more strongly linked than others.
Familial Hemiplegic Migraine (FHM)
The genes most strongly linked to migraine are three genes associated with familial hemiplegic migraine or FHM. FMH is a rare subtype of migraine in which half the body gets weak or paralyzed during the headache. It is passed from parent to child in an autosomal dominant pattern, meaning if one parent has FHM, there is a 50% chance that their child will have FHM. The three genes in FHM are ion transporters, suggesting neuron hyperexcitability in the mechanism of FHM.
Do Families with FHM Experience the Same Types of Headaches and the Same Symptoms?
Sometimes. However, even in genetically-linked migraine disorders, environmental factors can greatly contribute to an individual’s unique propensity to experience severe headaches. Triggers such as specific foods, minor head traumas, or emotional stressors may bring on a migraine in someone who has a family history of migraines — or in someone who does not.
What makes FHMs even more difficult to track is the fact that most individuals don’t keep track of their triggers and migraines, nor do they share this information with other relatives even if they did keep track. Experts recommend that everyone with migraines keep a headache diary, both for themselves and for possible family members who may also experience migraines.
What researchers have discovered is that in FHM, something called an aura comes before the actual headache itself. Symptoms of an aura include:
- Feeling short-term weakness or numbness on one side
- Slurred speech
- Seeing flashing lights and zig-zagging lines
- Experiencing scotomas (partial loss of vision)
- Seeing double (double vision)
Remember that not all migraines and headache disorders are linked with hereditary factors. Still, it’s important to know your genetic medical history to see if there could be a link between the headaches you experience and those experienced by any members of your family.
For more information on The Will Erwin Headache Research Center click here.
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