The Heredity of Migraines: Migraine Awareness Month #20 #MHAM20

It was 2008 when I learned I wasn’t the first in my family to suffer from chronic migraines. I had been diagnosed about six months prior with “intractable migraine with aura,” and I was feeling the loneliest I’d ever felt. One day, while talking to my dad on the phone, I found out understanding was much closer than I’d ever thought.

“Oh, the doctors don’t know what to do, Dad,” I said. “Nothing seems to work.”

“You should talk to Grandma,” he answered.

I was bewildered. Why should I talk to my grandmother, his mother, about my symptoms?

“She’s had them for years,” he said. “When we were younger, there were lots of days she could barely get out of bed.”

I was stunned. I knew migraine disease was at least partially hereditary, but I’d never known that anyone in my family suffered from the disease.

When I called my grandma later that day, she admitted that she’d had them for decades.

“I thought you knew,” she said. “It was awful. In my day, they didn’t really believe they were anything more than a woman’s hysteria, but I was lucky enough to have a doctor whose wife got them, too, and he tried everything he could to help me.”

Figuring out the genetic link for my disease helped me tremendously. I didn’t feel angry or victimized that I got stuck with the migraine genes when neither my father nor my younger sister did. Instead, I felt blessed to have a living relative who knew the agony I experienced every day. A woman who had been where I was and lived through it. Knowing that someone close to me suffered as I did also gave me some idea of what to expect (a true blessing for such an unpredictable disease).

While most women’s migraines go away as they age and/or with the onset of menopause, my grandmother’s never have. She still gets an average of at least one per week. And, while we don’t have the same kind of migraines (I have aura, she doesn’t; triptans help her, but do nothing for me), this knowledge of my genetic past has helped me recognize how important it is to learn how to live well with my migraines, just in case they don’t go away.

Strangely, I don’t find this a depressing thought. I see it as a lesson in preparation, and a reminder to be thankful for all the other things my grandmother passed down to me.

 

— Are you suffering from migraines that don’t respond to treatment or simply overwhelmed by the emotions and day-to-day difficulties of living with this life-changing disease? Check out my new e-book: Finding Happiness with Migraines: A Do-It-Yourself Guide. It’s available for sale on Amazon and BarnesandNoble.com.

 

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