Migraines: Do you Have a High Genetic Risk?

Migraines are non specific pains in the head that are often difficult to diagnose. People often confuse migraines and headaches because the two are both essentially pains in the head. A migraine is in fact a headache, but it is a very intense headache; we can thus say that somebody who has a migraine does in fact have a type of headache.

How would I know if I have a migraine?

Migraines affect far more females than males, with around three out of every four sufferers being female.

Unlike headaches, migraines are preceded by certain symptoms which often mean that the suffered knows that a migraine is coming on. For example, they may feel any of the following:

  • Nausea which could sometimes cause vomiting as the migraine gets worse
  • Diarrhea
  • Tingling in the legs or arms
  • Headache
  • Increased sensitivity to light and visual problems often referred to as Aura.
  • Essentially, symptoms such as nausea and vomiting are actually a result of the migraine – a response of the nervous system.

Migraines can often and easily be confused with:

  • Headaches that are a result of stress and tension
  • Head ache caused by allergies and sinus inflammation or blockage

What causes a migraine?

What actually causes a migraine or even a general headache is not fully understood. Often why they occur at random points in a person’s life are just one of those phenomena that are still under investigation. Certain illnesses or environmental conditions (for example screaming, stress, anxiety and persistently loud noises and exposure to the sun can trigger a migraine). What is better understood however is what actually happens when someone gets a migraine:

Blood vessels in the brain enlarge; an artery enlarges just beneath the skull causing an inflammation which creates pressure on the brain, causing intense pain.

Can I prevent migraines?

Migraines can be prevented by avoiding situations which are known to trigger them. Every person who is a migraine sufferer may be aware of triggers that are different from those of another migraine sufferer. This means that different people will need to study their own situations to fully understand how to mitigate the risks of a migraine.

Medical treatments include:

  • Abortive therapies (actual treatments and medicines such as paracetamol, aspirin, antidepressants and others)
  • Prophylactic therapies (prevention of migraines with exercise, herbs, eye corrections and others)

Genetics and genes that cause migraines

Migraines are often hereditary and studies have shown that people who have direct genetic relatives who suffer from migraines have an elevated risk of developing migraine. Familial hemiplegic migraine (FHM) is the type of migraine that has a hereditary component and runs in families. Just how common Familial hemiplegic migraine is has not been established but if you do have a history of migraines in the family you may well have inherited the gene which causes it.

What genes cause migraine?

The following are the three genes believed to be responsible for the familial type of migraine.

  • CACNA1A
  • ATP1A2
  • SCN1A

A genetic DNA test for migraines can tell you whether you are at a higher risk of developing migraines when compared to other people in a population. If the genetic predisposition test shows you have a higher risk of migraine, you might want to take preventive measures to avoid getting migraines. Other common general health diseases we test for include diabetes type 2 and diabetes type 1.

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