Are Genetics Responsible For Your Migraines?

Migraine with aura may be more common when there is family history of epilepsy

January 20, 2013 / Author:  / Reviewed by: Chris Galloway, M.D.

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(dailyRx News) Research has shown that epileptics may be twice as likely to have migraine headaches as those who do not have the seizure disorder. What is it that connects these two conditions?

A recent study looked at whether there may be a genetic link between migraine and epilepsy. The study showed a shared genetic susceptibility between the two conditions.

Those with a family history of epilepsy were more likely to experience migraine with aura. The more family history of epilepsy, the more likely an individual would have migraine with aura.

"Discuss your family medical history with a doctor."

Melodie Winawer, MD, of Columbia University Medical Center in New York, and colleagues analyzed data of 730 participants in the Epilepsy Phenome/Genome Project (EPGP) who had migraines. The EPGP is an ongoing study that collects information from epilepsy patients in 27 centers in five different countries.

One of the focal points of the EPGP is to study families that have multiple family members with epilepsy with the goal of determining a genetic cause. A family history of epilepsy is uncommon.

Dr. Winawer’s study focused on siblings with epilepsy or parents and their children who both have epilepsy. The 730 participants in this study came from 501 families.

EPGP study participants were interviewed regarding the details of their seizures, headaches and other medical history. Laboratory data including imaging data and measured electrical brain activity was taken from medical records and a blood sample was taken from each participant in order to analyze the DNA.

Dr. Winawer and team interviewed the study participants regarding their experience with migraines. The team also asked participants if there were any family members who had seizures that were not EPGP participants.

The researchers then looked for associations between migraines and seizures within the families.

The results showed there was more incidents of migraine with aura in study participants who had two or more relatives with epilepsy. Those with three or more close relatives with a seizure disorder were more than two times as likely to have migraine with aura as those who had fewer relatives with seizures.

There was no link between migraine without aura and family history of epilepsy.

Migraine with aura is a severe headache accompanied by symptoms like flashing lights, visual or speech distortion or numbness of the face. Less than 20 percent of all migraines are considered to include aura.

This research sheds light on the genetic link between the two conditions. Future research can help to improve diagnosis and treatment of migraine with aura and epilepsy.

The study was published in Epilepsia, a journal of the International League Against Epilepsy.

Funding was provided by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. One study author reported receiving a grant from the Committee for Interns and Residents to attend a conference in 2011. No other conflicts of interest were reported.

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Review Date: 
January 19, 2013
Last Updated:
January 22, 2013