Hormone levels in the womb before birth is potentially linked to the risk of developing migraines later in life, a new study of genetic and environmental information from the largest database of twins has revealed.
The research is the first to show that genetic factors related to the risk of migraines may be different for men and women. The researchers hope these findings will enable more effective and targeted treatment options for the disease.
The study was published in Frontiers in Pain Research and further uncovered evidence that suggests that different genes influence migraine risk in women and men.
“We are the first to show that females with a male co-twin have a higher risk of migraine compared to females with a female co-twin, suggesting that prenatal factors, possibly relating to in utero hormone levels, may contribute to migraine risk,” said Morgan Fitzgerald, lead author of the study, from the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine. “We are also the first to present evidence that genetic factors related to migraine risk may be different between females and males.”
Migraines affect over 12% of the population
Migraines are a neurological disease that affects more than 12% of the world’s population and can be severe. Females are more likely to suffer from them by a factor of almost seven to one, and it is a leading cause of disability in young women.
“Despite its prevalence, the factors that contribute to migraine are poorly understood,” said Dr Matthew Panizzon, principal investigator of the study, also based at the UC San Diego School of Medicine. “With the data from the Swedish Twin Registry, the largest twin registry in the world, there was a unique opportunity to probe factors contributing to female-male differences in migraine.”
The researchers examined data from 51,872 individuals who had participated in prior Swedish Twin Registry studies. They identified those who experienced migraines without aura based on criteria set by the International Headache Society Classification of Headache Disorders.
Improving treatment options
“The findings of our study are important because the more we understand the factors that contribute to migraine, and especially the differences between males and females, the more opportunity there is to improve clinical care, diagnostic abilities, and therapeutic interventions for both men and women,” added Panizzon.
Further questions remain, such as what factors dictate the presence or absence of aura with the condition, and at what age and in what stage of life does migraine begin.
“Unfortunately, age at onset was not available in the Swedish Twin Registry data. In fact, most studies do not ask individuals when their migraine attacks first start,” explained Fitzgerald. “In the future, we hope to examine how age at migraine onset coincides with the timing of critical hormonal events like puberty.”