I have stated for years that the causes of chronic migraine headaches and epilepsy are the same. While not generally accepted, it is consistent with current research.
The finding of a genetic link between migraines and epilepsy have been all over the news since this article hit the mainstream media earlier this month. I have had a standing Google alert for “migraines and epilepsy” for quite some time now. Nothing was on the radar screen on the Internet until this study hit.
For those of you who know, I have a particularly strong interest in migraines and epilepsy and have spent the past 6-7 years working on my book, “Migraines and Epilepsy: You Are Not Alone.” During the writing of this book, it has been very common for me to be asked about the combination of the two conditions, because they are not generally thought of in the same sentence. This includes most specialists dealing with epilepsy and with migraines.
However, the underlying problem with both of these conditions are very, very similar and this particular study lends weight to this concept.
Basically, researchers looked for families that had several epileptics in the family so they could basically single out a family with a strong genetic predisposition to seizures. Seizures don’t always run strongly in families, so this was the researchers way to kind of “narrow the pool” so to speak. They then looked at the presence of migraine with aura within these families and found a definite link between the two (Tweet this).
So what does this really mean? When I think genetics traits, I think of enzymes, because genetic uniquenesses that change the speed of how an enzyme runs is the most common difference or commonality in conditions that run in families (this is called a single nucleotide polymorphism, or SNP for short). With a genetic link between migraines and epilepsy, I can clearly envision an enzyme that affects how our cells generate energy (the technical term would be SNPs present that affect the mitochondrial energetic pathway).
If several family members have problems generating energy for the brain cells, this can result in different outcomes along the same path. In one family member it produces a seizure disorder. In another family member a migraine with aura.
My hope for this study is that we don’t view these as “comorbidites,” meaning that these two conditions just happen to coexist but don’t have much relationship to each other (like high triglyerides and high blood pressure). Rather, we need to view these two conditions as having the same basic problem, but with a different outcome depending upon the individual.
As an example, (and a bad one, but it’s close to bedtime as I write this) consider stress. People under extreme levels of stress may experience different outcomes. Stroke in one, heart attack in another. And cancer in a third. All stemming from the same problem, but leading to different outcomes dependent upon uniqueness’s present within the individual’s makeup.
Overall, this post was designed less to educate and more to inform. If you are a migraine headache sufferer or someone who experiences seizures, pay attention to things that you may learn that help the other condition–it may benefit you as well.