| gender differences

Migraines and Prebirth Hormones

Twins, Genetics, Genders, and Headaches

A study published in Frontiers of Pain Research utilized data from almost 52,000 participants in the Swedish Twin Registry to better understand migraine and genetic and environmental factors. Migraine affects approximately 1 in 7 people, is the 2nd largest cause of disability, and 3 times as many women as men have them, at 18% and 6%, respectively. Lead author Morgan Fitzgerald, from the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine, commented, “Since the data were collected from twins, we were able to use analytic methods that allowed us to test whether migraine risk was driven by different genes in females and males, and whether the presence of an opposite-sex twin in utero, which is believed to impact prenatal hormone levels, had an influence. We found that the prenatal environment may contribute to migraine risk, and that some of the genetic factors that contribute to migraine risk may be different between females and males.” Of note:

  • In migraine without aura, women have a significantly higher rate than men (17.6% vs 5.5%)
  • Migraine is equally heritable in men and women
  • Females with a male co-twin have a significant increase in migraine risk relative to females with a female co-twin

The study concluded, “we leveraged the largest migraine sample populations and present the first evidence that genetic factors in migraine risk may be different across the sexes. Although the present analysis was unable to identify specific genes that differed across the sexes, we propose a series of potential mechanisms through which early environmental factors could influence migraine risk.”


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Read the press release.

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