Are Migraines Hereditary?
Is There A Connection?
My mother had them, I have them, and now my daughter has them. Is this a "woman" thing? Are migraine headaches hereditary? The short answer to both of these questions is, yes.
Headaches are common in today's world. The most common type of headache is the migraine, which sends people running to their doctors with intense, sometimes blinding, pain. As is the case with most headaches, women suffer more from migraines than men do. The ratio is 3:1, meaning, of four migraine sufferers, three of them are women. Why is that?
Blame It On Hormones
The most common and frequently cited reason for the prevalence of migraines in women is hormones. The US Department of Health and Human Services reported that more than half of migraines in women occur right before, during, or immediately following the menstrual period. Just before the onset of menstruation, estrogen and progesterone levels drop. Since estrogen has been shown to govern the chemicals in the brain that affect female pain sensations, the sudden decrease can trigger migraine headaches. This may explain the cause for many women. However, other women deal with these headaches all through their cycle.
Dr. Richard Pearl, a clinical neurologist in Suffolk Country, N.Y. says, "Like in all neurological diseases, a combination of genetics and environment play a role. One environmental factor is estrogen but a genetic predisposition has been firmly established." In fact, researchers say they are close to identifying a specific gene that creates predisposition to migraine headaches in people.
Like Mother, Like....?
Children whose mothers had migraine headaches have a 50 percent higher incidence of migraine occurrence when they grow up. Classical migraines are characterized with an aura (manifesting as flashing lights, shimmering lines and blind spots), that happen about 30 minutes before the actual pain hits the head. The headaches can be debilitating, making a person hypersensitive to light and often nauseated.
Recent Gene Discovery Leads To Drug Treatment Efficacy
Dr. Aarno Palotie, a geneticist at the University of California, Los Angeles, and his team of researchers analyzed genetic blood markers in samples taken from 50 families in which three members of the family or more, over different generations, suffer with the disorder. In a third of the 430 people studied, three common markers were discovered.
In the American Journal of Human Genetics, Dr. Palotie explained: "This finding moves us a step closer to isolating the gene that predisposes people to migraines with auras." He added, "The findings also pave the way for clinical trials of more effective prophylactic drugs."
A gene has also been recently discovered for a rare type of migraine that runs in families. Familial hemiplegic migraine, while not widespread, has devastating effects on sufferers. The discovery of the gene that causes it will lead to the development of effective treatment for the disorder.