What is Familial Hemiplegic Migraine?


Familial hemiplegic migraine (FHM) is a severe type of migraine that can be caused by a single gene. The symptoms can include vomiting, paralysis, and loss of consciousness.


“So we've actually — one of the other areas we've been focusing on in the last few years is the diagnosis of migraine. Now the common types of migraine are a bit harder to diagnose because we don't know all the genes yet, and it appears that there are a lot of genes. But there are some subtypes of migraine where we have single genes that play a really significant role.

“And so one of these is called familial hemiplegic migraine (FHM), and this is a subtype of migraine with aura. It results in people having usually quite a young age of onset, quite often as a child or teenager. It's very strongly genetic. It's inherited in a dominant fashion from one generation to the next, meaning if you have it, each of your children has a 50% chance of having it. And it's got very severe symptoms. It has all the normal migraine headache, severe migraine, nausea, vomiting, but it also has paralysis, usually on one side of the body, sometimes for quite extended periods of time, and sometimes it can even induce loss of consciousness and even coma in some people.

“This is actually a type of migraine. It looks like a lot of other disorders. It shows symptomatic overlap with various stroke-like disorders, with some other movement disorders with that paralysis and even with some sort of cancer-tumor-type disorders — brain tumors. So defining the diagnosis is really important because it rules out other things, but it also helps the doctor to define what's the appropriate treatment.”


Familial hemiplegic migraine is a severe subtype of migraine with aura having a young age of onset that can result in severe symptoms of vomiting, paralysis, and loss of consciousness. It is strongly inherited and can be caused by a single gene mutation.

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Professor Lyn Griffiths, PhD, BSc Hons

Director, Centre for Genomics & Personalised Health
Queensland University of Technology, Australia

Professor Lyn Griffiths is the executive director of the Institute of Health and Biomedical Innovation, the largest interdisciplinary research institute at Queensland University of Technology. An active and respected molecular geneticist with more than 28 years of experience studying human complex gene disorders, with specific expertise in human gene mapping and gene expression analysis in migraine, cardiovascular disease, and several types of cancer. Professor Griffiths leads the Genomics Research Centre, in which the main focus of research is the identification of genes involved in common human disorders and the translation of this research into new diagnostics and therapeutics.

Professor Griffiths’ own genetics research has appeared in more than 350 peer-reviewed international journals and led to diagnostic breakthroughs for several neurogenetic disorders, including familial migraine, ataxia, epilepsy, and hereditary stroke. A fellow of the Queensland Academy of Arts and Science, Professor Griffiths has also established several significant international collaborations with the Texas Biomedical Research Institute, Oxford University, University of Vienna, the Italian National Research Council, the MS ANZgene Consortium, and the International Migraine Genetics Consortium.