DNA in the Migraine

There is DNA in the migraine story of my family. My mom called them “sick headaches,” and sometimes I’d find her on the couch when I came home from school. These were the only times I ever saw my mom lay down during the day, and even with a “sick headache” she’d get up and start dinner as soon as dad’s truck pulled in the driveway after work. She never showed him her pain – it was embarrassing and a sign of weakness – but I saw how she suffered.

Around the time I turned 13, the head pain and nausea I’d been experiencing throughout my childhood was finally referred to by my parents as “sick headaches.” The stigma of these “sick headaches” (migraine attacks) was also attached, and I knew they were something I had to hide from others. I hid them for decades until I couldn’t hide them anymore. Even with regular medical care and a slew of migraine medications, I lost my job of over 20 years, because of chronic migraine attacks and comorbid conditions.

I don’t know if it was the fog of my own struggle with chronic illnesses or the learned embarrassment and fear of appearing weak from my childhood “sick headache” experiences – but I failed to recognize the symptoms of migraine in my child. She often complained of stomach aches in elementary school and had been sick in the car several times. When she started middle school, the head pain started and eventually became a daily occurrence. It wasn’t until her pediatrician referred her to a neurologist that she was diagnosed with migraine.

Even with regular medical care and a slew of migraine medications, she is still experiencing daily migraine attacks. She has the typical comorbid conditions (anxiety and depression), which make the migraine attacks worse. Treating her anxiety and depression is, in turn, hampered by the migraine attacks. Also, the trauma she suffered as a younger child likely contributed to the attacks. She’s stuck in this cycle that is not her fault, and I’ve been unable to break her free.

All of this is in her DNA, passed on from her family going further back than I am even aware. It’s not just the genetic predisposition for migraine but the family history of trauma, also likely going back further than I know. It’s like a glitch in the DNA, turned on by chance at birth, and compounded by negative life experiences – a family glitch we no longer hide.

Related post The Passage of Pain.