WebMD Medical News
Louise Chang, MD
Jan. 13, 2010 -- Migraine headaches and depression may share a strong
genetic link, a new study indicates.
Migraine sufferers are much more likely to suffer from depression than
people who don’t have the debilitating headaches, according to researchers from
Leiden University Medical Center in the Netherlands.
The study is published in Neurology, the medical journal of the
American Academy of Neurology.
The study involved 2,652 people who took part in a research program called
the Erasmus Rucphen Family study. All are genetically similar and descendants
of 22 couples who lived in a community in the Netherlands from the 1850s to the
Of the participants, 360 had migraines, including 151 who had migraine with
aura - when headaches are preceded by sensations, such as flashing lights. An
additional 209 had migraine without aura. The participants with migraines were
compared to a group of 617 participants in the study who didn’t report having
The researchers found that 25% of those with migraines also suffered from
depression, compared to 13% of people with depression who didn’t have the
The researchers say that for both types of migraine, heritability (the
percentage explained by genetic factors) was estimated at 56%.
For people with migraine with aura, the estimate was 96%.
The authors say that comparing the heritability estimates for depression
between people with migraine and those without showed a shared genetic
component in the two disorders, especially with migraine with aura.
“We found an increased risk of depression and depressive symptoms in
migraine patients, in particular those with aura,” write the authors of the
study, whose lead author was A.H. Stam, MD, of Leiden University Medical
For migraines without aura, “a smaller decrease in heritability
estimates was observed, suggesting that a small fraction of ... depression is
explained by shared genetic factors,” the authors write.
The study, they say, may lead to better therapeutic strategies in people who
suffer from both depression and migraine.
Andrew Ahn, MD, PhD, and Tetsuo Ashizawa, MD, of the University of Florida,
advise that people with migraine or depression tell their doctors about any
family history of either disease.
Gisela M. Terwindt, MD, PhD, of Leiden University Medical Center and one of
the study authors, says in a news release that the findings suggest that
“common genetic pathways may, at least partly, underlie both of these
disorders, rather than that one is the consequence of the other.”
SOURCES:News release, American Academy of Neurology.Stam, A. Neurology, 2010; vol 74: pp 288-294.Ahn, A. Neurology, 2010; vol 74: p 278.
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