Are Migraines Genetic?

Are migraines genetic? This is one of the many questions about migraines that people often ask. To answer this question, let’s start by understanding what genetics means. 

DNA, genes, and chromosomes have something in common. In case you don’t know, genes make up your DNA. Interestingly, chromosomes make up your DNA. According to specialists, 23 pairs of chromosomes make up your DNA. For your existence, each of your parents contributes a pair of chromosomes to you.

Understanding the term “genes”

Genes function differently in the body. Some genes act as instructions to produce certain molecules, known as proteins. Furthermore, genes are the basic functional and physical unit of human heredity. Occasionally, they can modify, and either cause or make a person susceptible to certain health issues. Since both parents contribute one pair of chromosomes, you should understand that they can transfer these gene alterations along to their children.

Migraine has genetic components. These could either be variants or alterations. According to the Migraine Trust, genetics has a big role to play when it comes to migraine. Matter of fact, studies reveal that roughly 60% of migraines are caused by gene-related issues.

Today, certain types of migraine are strongly hereditary; a good example is familial hemiplegic migraine (FHM). This type of hemiplegic migraine runs in families. It’s often transferred through an autosomal dominant pattern. With this pattern, a person can have FHM by just inheriting a copy of the mutant gene.

Familial Hemiplegic Migraine is classified into four different types, based on the gene that produces it:

  • Type 1 FHM is the most popular form of familial hemiplegic migraine. It surfaces when a person inherits a copy of the CACNA1A gene mutation.
  • For an individual to experience FHM type 2, they must have inherited a copy of the ATP1A2 gene mutation. In this case, the person is most likely going to experience seizures
  • An individual that inherits a copy of the SCN1A gene mutation is likely going to experience FMH type 3.
  • Doctors consider diagnosing their patients for FMH type 4 only if the gene responsible for the hemiplegic migraine is unidentifiable.

More genetic migraine models still developing

In 2007, the Archives of Neurology research was able to advance pre-existing migraine lab work even further. At the time, three genetic migraine models for FHM were discovered. The discovery was achieved through a study on mice and ongoing genetic factors.

As earlier mentioned, familial hemiplegic migraine runs in families. FMH is characterized by temporary numbness or weakness of one side of the body. Its other aura symptoms include visual aura, fever, lethargy, and ataxia. FMH also has a few permanent symptoms, such as intellectual disability. Because of these symptoms, familial hemiplegic migraine is considered one of the most severe conditions a person who needs migraine help can encounter. Interestingly, FMH is also one of the easiest conditions to identify for migraine treatments. Doctors can easily identify the genes causing this condition and switch them off.

While genes can cause different types of FMH migraines, you need to understand that it doesn’t happen “directly.” Instead, certain factors contribute to why the genes are causing these migraine conditions. For instance, your “body reaction” is a factor that influences your DNA, which determines whether or not you’ll have migraines.

  • Are you the type that often experiences stress, exhaustion, dehydration, and melancholy?
  • If yes, you need to understand that you’re at a higher risk of having familial hemiplegic migraine. This is especially true if you inherit a copy of the mutant gene, such as the CACNA1A gene, ATP1A2 gene, or SCN1A gene.

Bottom line: how people from the same family get migraines is not just a factor of the gene they inherit. For instance, Person A and Person B of the same family may inherit a copy of the SCN1A gene mutation. Person A may experience migraine because of lack of adequate sleep and this issue may not affect person B. Instead, Person B may experience migraines because of too much sleep. The difference in how they experience migraines depends, to a large extent, on their “body reactions”.

Wrapping up

Today, the exact cause or origin of migraines is still unknown. The only conclusion over the years by researchers is that hemiplegic migraine is hereditary. While the aetiology of migraines is still mostly unclear, researchers believe the combination of your mutant genes and how your body reacts to stress and other things can make you experience migraine.

So, what happens when you start experiencing your first migraine?

  • The best you can do is to visit your healthcare provider.
  • The right healthcare provider will help you rule out the possibility of health conditions and mental health disorders. In addition, they’ll also discuss the appropriate migraine treatments with you.
  • For severe symptoms, consider seeking migraine help urgently from the right specialist.
  • You can also speak to your specialist regarding other migraine treatment alternatives and therapies.

Does any member of your family have migraines? While this could mean FMH for you, the good news is that you can easily identify your triggers and get the right Migraine treatments. In most cases, you and your family member will respond to the same migraine medication.

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