Migraine Cause: Family History

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

Because there are several different types of migraine, 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 people living with migraine found that a whopping 91 percent had at least one parent who also suffered from migraine. Another, 1992 study found a smaller family linkage. In that study, 60 percent of women reported migraine in their immediate family, while 47 percent of men did.

Additional Studies show

  • 70 percent of people living with migraine have a family history of migraine
  • If an immediate family member suffers from a migraine, there is a 14 fold increased risk of having migraine
  • The risk of getting migraine is 50 percent higher if an immediate family member has migraine
  • If one parent has migraine, there is a 40 percent chance the child will have migraine also
  • If both parents have migraine, there is a 90 percent chance the child will have migraine
  • Mothers with migraine are more than twice as likely to pass along the condition to their children than fathers with migraine
  • Fraternal twins suffered from migraine together 16 percent of the time
  • One large study of more than 5,000 American twins found that if one identical twin had migraine, the second twin also suffered from migraines 35 percent of the time

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

Familial Hemiplegic Migraine

There are different types of migraine. In only one kind of migraine, the familial hemiplegic migraine, has the family link been clearly shown based on a genetic alteration. 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.

Migraine Aura

Some migraine sufferers experience a type of warning sign that a migraine is about to strike. This sign is called migraine aura. Aura most often includes a change in vision, such as flickering light. Immediate family members of people who have migraine with aura are four times more likely to also suffer from a migraine with aura.

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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.
  3. NIH NINDS 2001 Migraine Report