Migraine Aura: A Genetic Link?

One of the more profound effects of migraine headaches is the aura. These manifestations are neurological disturbances, which precede and sometimes accompany the onset of an attack. They can involve ringing in the ears, visual impairments such as flashing lights or blind spots and can occur up to an hour before the actual pain. Recent research points in the direction of a genetic link as the cause.

In a first-of-its-kind study, an international research team, headed by Maija Wessman, sought to identify a genetic link between family members who reported migraine aura. The study focused on a group of fifty Finnish families who had migraine sufferers in several generations. Significantly, various family members reported aura-like symptoms, which spanned the generations.

Wessman’s group utilized sophisticated gene-identification and marking techniques to try and isolate a common link. After analysis, a significant correlation between the Migraine Aura phenotype and Chromosome 4q24 was in found to be in evidence. The researchers have noted that much more clinical evaluation will need to be done in this area. However, if heredity can be a factor in this illness, then it may be possible, one day, to test for it and to develop techniques, which might prevent or reduce the effects of the disorder.

The Botox Debate

One of the most daunting areas in migraine research is to identify which treatments are most effective and if some of these measures are actually more detrimental than positive. A hot area of debate is the efficacy of the drug Botox.

Botox is a purified protein derived from Botulinum toxin A—the same bacteria that can result in deadly food poisoning. In the early 1990s, Botox was found to be an effective treatment for skin wrinkles. Administered by injection, the protein works by temporarily paralyzing facial muscles that cause wrinkles. As its use in dermatological practice became more wide spread, many patients also reported a reduction in headaches.

In November 2000, Dr. Richard Glogau, Professor of Dermatology at University of California, San Francisco reported that 75 percent of the patients in his case study reported relief from migraine symptoms following injections of the purified protein. Dr. Glogau noted that while the relationship between the condition and the treatment has not been established through clinical trial, such study should be encouraged.

On the other side of the coin, a recent study supervised by Dr. Murad Alam found that one percent of the of 320 patients receiving Botox injections reported the occurrence of “life-altering headaches.” Dr. Alam also recommended additional clinical trials to further define the situation.

Clearly, new approaches to migraine treatment—from chromosomal research to utilization of medications not associated with headaches—are the wave of the future. For those afflicted, this new wave is a wave of hope.

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