If You Get Migraines, Your Genetics Could Be At Play

Over 12% of the U.S. population is thought to suffer with migraines (via Johns Hopkins Medicine). That number skyrockets globally when you consider the fact that over 1 billion people live with migraines around the world (via Neuroscience News).

While migraines can vary in intensity, the condition involves a "throbbing or pounding feeling" that can be experienced on one or both sides of the head, neck, face, or a combination of these areas, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine. Light sensitivity and hypersensitivity to smells can also accompany these intense headaches. Additionally, up to one-quarter of those who have migraines experience migraine aura, or when someone sees flashing, zigzagging lights, or blind spots in their field of vision.

While the scientific cause for migraines is not fully known, these severe headaches can be prompted by a number of stimuli including changes in the weather, teeth grinding, dehydration, sleep deprivation, menstruation, or eating certain foods (via Johns Hopkins Medicine). Now, a new global study involving over 100,000 migraine cases, has found some surprising and important new insights as to the role genetics may play in migraine prevalence.

Research findings reveal the potential for migraine-specific medications to improve

Published in the scientific journal Nature Genetics, the study examined genetic risk factors associated with two different types of migraines: those with aura and those without. They discovered that they both have unique and shared genetic characteristics, according to Medical News Today.

In addition, while past scientific research has identified 86 gene regions linked to the development of migraines, this study identified far more — a total of 123 gene regions. Heidi Hautakangas of the University of Helsinki speaks on these findings as the first author of the study, saying, "In addition to implicating tens of new regions of the genome for more targeted investigation, our study provides the first meaningful opportunity to evaluate shared and distinct genetic components in the two main migraine subtypes" (via Medical News Today).

The research also provides insight into how migraine-specific drugs could be better developed. Only two of the 123 migraine-related gene regions found by researchers are areas targeted by migraine medications. But with so many new gene regions detected, medications could potentially be developed to impact many more of these migraine risk regions. Board member of the National Headache Foundation, Dr. Roger Cady, who was unassociated with the study, spoke about the significance of these findings with Medical News Today. He said the study "offers hope of a new era for improved understanding of migraine pathophysiology and development of more targeted, personalized pharmacological treatment."