Hang on to your head! – New hope for migraine sufferers

Last week gene detectives revealed an important clue that could bring hope to millions of migraine sufferers worldwide.

After poring over the genetic profiles of more than 50,000 people, scientists announced that they had found the first inherited link to one of the most common types of the disease. This could be a huge breakthrough, both in terms of health, economics and quality of life.

Recent statistics from the National Institute of Health suggest that 11.7% of Americans (17.1% of women and 5.6% of men) suffer from migraines.  In Europe, the figures are reportedly even higher.  According to the World Health Organization (WHO), migraine is one of the top 20 diseases in terms of handicap. Indeed, a 2009 study put migraine’s economic cost on a par with diabetes.

Despite this, migraine is often perceived as a condition that imposes a minimal burden on society. Indeed sufferers are often accused of malingering.  These misperceptions persist, in part, because the disorder is episodic and rarely causes long-term physical disability. It’s also under-diagnosed and under-treated. As such, analyses of claims data underestimate the condition’s prevalence and economic impact.

In this latest breakthrough, scientists from 40 medical centers compared the genetic profiles of those who suffered from migraines with people who were otherwise healthy.  What they found was a tiny but telltale variant of DNA that boosts the risk of getting migraines by about a fifth.

This is the first time we have been able to peer into the genomes of many thousands of people and find genetic clues to understand common migraine,” said Aarno Palotie, head of the International Headache Genetics Consortium.

Although previous research has found links for some extreme forms of migraine this is the first to pinpoint an association for common types of the disease.

The tiny genetic variant, or allele, is called rs1835740.

Lying between two genes on Chromosome 8, rs1835740 allows glutamate – a messenger chemical to accumulate in junctions between brain cells.  According to the team, accumulated glutamate then unleashes the migraine.  Although the authors say further work is needed to confirm the findings, if confirmed, all scientists have to do is find a drug that prevents glutamate build-up.

Easier said than done?  Only time will tell.

Meantime,  SRxA’s Word on Health would love to hear from you with your migraine stories and tips.