Genetics Clue to Migraine Treatment

January 22, 2013

They say marriage is ‘for better or worse’ and yet with divorce rates pretty robust, one might question that statement.  However, it seems fair to say that genetics is in fact ‘for better or worse’ depending on whether we are full of gratitude or blame toward our ancestors.  When it comes to migraines and epilepsy occurring within families, scientists have confirmed there is in fact a connection between the two.  This may begin to explain how certain anti-seizure medication is prescribed not only for epilepsy but also as a migraine treatment.  Interestingly, neurostimulation is not only an effective treatment for chronic migraines but is being used in the treatment of epilepsy in individuals who cannot tolerate the side effects of medication or for whom medication does not work.

Researchers from Columbia University Medical Center in New York reviewed medical data of 730 patients with epilepsy, from various clinics in Canada, Australia, Argentina, New Zealand and the United States.  They found that there was an increased likelihood of migraine with aura and other visual disturbances, among those subjects with at least 3 close family members who also had seizure disorders.  Compared to those with fewer affected relatives, the risk for this migraine condition was doubled.   The researchers were able to conclude that there is a genetic connection between the two conditions, and that this could prove helpful in treatment approaches.  Current epilepsy and migraine treatment include some overlapping therapies.  For example, the anti-seizure medication Topiramate is prescribed for both conditions.  It can be effective when used long term and as a preventative therapy for migraines in some people.  Side effects may include tingling in the extremities, however for certain individuals the medication may be ineffective or even inappropriate.  For those people a neurostimulation procedure could provide long lasting relief without reliance on medication.

The Columbia University study was published in the January 7, 2013 issue of Epilepsia.  It certainly presents the opportunity for developing a greater understanding of the comorbidity of these conditions and optimizing therapies that improve the lives of individuals who suffer with or are prone to both.  When a migraine treatment such as neurostimulation, which interferes which pain signals in the brain using gentle electrical impulses, is similar to new developments in neurostimulation treatments for epilepsy, the possibilities are certainly promising.


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