Migraine Cause and Family History

A key, underlying factor in migraines is family history. People with family members who suffer from migraines are far more likely to also have migraines themselves.

Because there are several different types of migraines, all with numerous migraine symptoms, researchers believe that there are numerous genes that play a part in whether a person develops migraines. These genes, which could be passed from one family member to another, likely determine the type of migraine and the severity of the disorder.

One 1996 study of 255 migraine sufferers found that a whopping 91 percent had at least one parent who also suffered from migraines. Another, 1992 study found a smaller family linkage. In that study, 60 percent of women reported migraines in their immediate family, while 47 percent of men did.

Other statistics on migraine and family history

  • The risk of getting migraines is 50 percent higher if an immediate family member has migraines
  • Mothers with migraines are twice as likely to pass migraines on to their children than fathers
  • Identical twins suffer from migraines together twice as often as fraternal twins.

Because identical twins don’t both suffer from migraines 100 percent of the time, scientists believe that points to environmental factors which also influence migraine development. Although most believe that migraines are caused by genes in the brain that go haywire, environment also plays a role.

Familial Hemiplegic Migraine

In discussions about family history and migraines, familial hemiplegic migraine often surfaces. For this type of migraine, the inherited gene has been discovered. In this type of migraines, the symptoms include both sensory aura and visual aura, temporary muscle weakness, vision changes, loss of vision, temporary trouble communicating and head pain. Familial hemiplegic migraine has been subdivided into 4 categories, as research has been able to identify specific genes within families related to familial hemiplegic migraine. Before a migraine doctor makes a diagnosis of familial hemiplegic migraine, at least one other person in the immediate family or another very close relative must experience the exact same type of migraine attacks.


Written by: Otesa Miles | Revised by: Kristine Zerkowski | Last reviewed: August 2014.
View References
  1. Genetic and Environmental Influences on Migraine: A Twin Study Across Six Countries; Twin Research; Mulder; October 2003.
  2. Headache Classification Committee of the International Headache Society (IHS). The International Classification of Headache Disorders, 3rd edition (beta version). Cephalalgia. 2013;33(9):629-808.