Migraine and epilepsy: new genetic links

If you have migraines, you know they are much more than “just a headache.” Migraine attacks include a lot of unpleasant symptoms besides pain and migraine doesn’t live alone. People with migraine are at higher risk for also experiencing a range of other health problems — called co-morbid conditions. When a condition is co-morbid with migraine, that means that people with migraine have a higher risk of also having another health problem. In other words, when you have migraine, you’re at a higher risk of also having conditions like asthma, epilepsy, fibromyalgia, depression, anxiety, and Raynaud’s phenomenon. Recognizing conditions that occur more often in people with migraine is important so those conditions can also be treated. For example, a 2012 article published in the journal Neurology reported an increased risk for migraine among children with epilepsy. In addition to reporting that one in four children with epilepsy also had migraine, this study also found that the child’s doctor was addressing the migraine problems for only half of the children. This study highlighted that you need to make sure your doctor is addressing all of your health problems — including co-morbid conditions.

Recognizing links between migraine and other disorders also can provide important insights into the causes of migraine. New research was just released in the journal Epilepsia that suggests an inherited susceptibility causes the link between migraine and an increased risk for epilepsy. Researchers from Columbia University studied people participating in the Epilepsy Phenome/Genone Project. Your phenome is what characteristics you have — like blue eyes, brown hair, high blood pressure, migraines, or a seizure disorder. Your genome is the genetic code you inherit — the DNA sequences that make you uniquely you. The Epilepsy Phenome/Genome Project is investigating people with epilepsy in the United States, Canada, and Australia to help better understand the genetic code behind seizure disorders. The latests report from this project investigated the link between migraine and epilepsy. Among the 730 people enrolled in the epilepsy project, 25 percent also had migraine:

  • 32 percent of females with epilepsy also had migraine
  • 15 percent of men with epilepsy had migraine

Having other close relatives with epilepsy also increased the risk of having migraine with aura, supporting a genetic link. This same link was not seen for migraine without aura.

Recognizing inherited links between conditions like epilepsy and migraine may lead to additional research to uncover specific genetic factors important for the combination of co-morbid disorders as well as each disorder separately. This information may have important implications for future treatment development.

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