Are Migraines Hereditary?

migraine is an exceptionally severe type of headache that causes throbbing, intense pain. It is usually focused on one side of the head. Those who suffer from migraines can have them as frequently as multiple times a week. They can also occur as infrequently as once a year. Chronic migraines are the most severe form of migraine. Chronic migraines occur when an individual has more than 15 days a month with a headache, with eight of those involving a migraine.

The third most common disorder worldwide, migraines, affects 1 in 7 people. Women tend to be more frequently impacted by migraines than men. Migraines usually start to occur during a person’s teens to early twenties. However, they can begin at any stage of life. Migraines do not have a clear pattern of inheritance. Though, it has been found that around 80-90% of individuals who have family members who get migraines will suffer from migraines themselves.

Stages of a Migraine

Migraines are usually classified by three stages: the predromal phase, the headache phase, and the postdromal phase. Let’s break those down:

  • The predromal phase can start from several hours up to several days before the migraine actually appears. In this phase, affected individuals can experience fatigue, brain fog, and muscle stiffness in the neck and back. Some other common symptoms include excessive yawning, cravings, irritability, sensitivity to light and sound, and nausea. Some individuals also experience auras. These commonly include temporary visual changes such as blind spots, flashing lights, and zig-zagging lines of color.
  • In the headache phase, the pain may last from a few hours to a few days. Individuals in this phase tend to experience nausea, vomiting, dizziness, and sensitivity to light and sound in addition to a very bad headache.
  • The postdromal phase usually lasts a few hours but can linger for more than a day. In this phase, the headache pain is gone but individuals can experience drowsiness, decreased energy, brain fog, and irritability among other symptoms.  

How do Genetics Affect Migraines?

Migraines result from a combination of genetic, environmental, and lifestyle factors. Some of these factors have not been identified. This is why clinical research is critical in finding the true causes of migraines.

Most genes associated with migraines are active in muscles that surround blood vessels within the brain. These genes help regulate blood flow by constricting and expanding blood vessels. Many variants can disrupt blood flow in the brain. This disruption can contribute to developing migraines. Variants in genes that regulate levels of glutamate, potassium, and calcium or genes that control the activity of certain nerve cells in the brain have also been found in people with migraines. A few of the most common genes that cause migraines can be found below:

  • ASTN1: Encodes a protein that is expressed in the brain and may function in neuronal migration.
  • CARF: Acts as an activator that mediates calcium- and neuron-selective induction.
  • KCNK5: This gene encodes one of the members of the superfamily of potassium channel proteins.

What Genetic Research Is Being Done?

A new Genome-Wide Association Study (GWAS) has helped researchers begin to identify even more of the specific genes that may cause migraines. This type of study compares DNA from individuals with migraines to those without migraines. When a particular DNA sequence variation is found more often in the DNA of those with migraines, that region is thought to be associated with the condition.

One recent study looked at the DNA of more than 23,000 migraine sufferers and compared it with the DNA from more than 95,000 similar individuals without migraines. The study showing 12 specific areas of the DNA appeared to be associated with migraine. Proving a correlation between certain genes and migraines. This is great progress in truly identifying the genes responsible for migraines.

We are holding migraine studies at several Meridien Research locations. If you are interested in more information on a study, please visit our website here: