Finding the origins of migraines — an ailment that affects 38 million Americans and 1 billion people worldwide — has long been a headache for researchers. Are they a neurological (related to nerves) or vascular (related to blood supply) problem?
The results of a recent genetic meta-analysis may provide fresh insights into causes of migraines and, ultimately, determine treatment.
DNA data from 22 genome-wide association studies of more than 375,000 people of European descent — almost 60,000 of whom suffer from migraines — was analyzed by the International Headache Genetics Consortium. The findings, published in Nature Genetics in June 2016, reveal relationships between migraines and 38 genes, only 10 of which had been previously connected. Most of these genes were also linked to vascular and smooth muscle tissues.
Researchers also noted that the two most common types of migraines — those with and those without visual aura disturbances, like seeing wavy lines, blind spots, or bright lights — share some underlying genetic components.
While the results don’t solve the mystery behind the causes of migraines — and don’t rule out neurological factors — they strengthen prior findings of vascular components and highlight the important role blood vessels may play in migraine attacks.
Researchers believe that the findings are an important step in developing personalized, evidence-based treatments for migraines, which may lead to clinical trials involving specific genetic-related groups to pinpoint effective treatments.
Migraines by the Numbers
1 in 7: Number of people worldwide who suffer from migraines. Twelve percent of Americans get migraines, including 18 percent of women, 6 percent of men, and 10 percent of children.
3: Ranking of migraines among the most common illnesses worldwide, behind tooth decay and tension headaches. Migraines are more prevalent than diabetes, epilepsy, and asthma combined.
90%: Percentage of sufferers who are unable to work or function normally during a migraine.