What are the Causes of Migraine?

Updated at: Aug 16, 2011
What are the Causes of Migraine?

Understand Migraine- The exact cause of migraine is still not known but it is mostly contributed to genetic and environmental factors. This article includes details on causes of migraine.

Dr Poonam Sachdev
MigraineWritten by: Dr Poonam SachdevPublished at: Aug 11, 2011

Woman in headache painThe exact causes of migraine are not known. Factors which can possibly cause migraines include:


  • Genetics. People with a family history of migraines are more likely to develop migraine.
  • Environmental changes such as sudden temperature change and change of barometric pressure can probably affect migraine.
  • Disorders or disturbance in the trigeminal nerve, which is a major pain pathway, may cause migraine headaches.
  • Alterations in neurotransmitters in the brain including serotonin (a chemical in the brain which helps regulate pain in the nervous system) may lead to migraines. According to a research, serotonin levels decrease during migraine attacks which probably triggers the trigeminal system to release substances called neuropeptides. This chemical travels to the meninges (the outer covering of the brain) and then causes headache.


Migraine Triggers


The exact causes of migraine are not known but several things can trigger/start a migraine headache. Some of the common triggers of migraine include:


  • Hormonal changes in women: Changes in the level of estrogen can trigger headaches in many women suffering from migraine. Many women with migraines notice that the headache often starts immediately before or during their periods (an interval in which a major drop in estrogen occurs). Pregnancy and menopause are two other periods when major hormonal changes occur in the body. They are also known to trigger migraines. Besides these, hormonal medications (oral contraceptives and hormone replacement therapy) can worsen migraines in women with a history of migraines (however, some women reportedly benefit after taking OCPs or HRT).
  • Foods and Beverages: Certain items such as alcohol, especially beer and red wine, aged cheeses; chocolate, aspartame, and monosodium glutamate are known to trigger migraines. Caffeine addiction can also give you persistent migraine headaches. Some people with migraine are affected by skipping meals or fasting as well.
  • Stress: Stress (at work or home) can affect or start migraines.
  • Sensory stimuli: Many people with migraine are affected by bright lights, sun glare, loud sounds, perfume, and unpleasant odours as all these can trigger migraines.
  • Changes in wake-sleep pattern: Missing sleep, sleeping late or sleeping too much may trigger migraine attacks in some people.
  • Physical factors: Excessive exertion, strenuous exercise, and at times sexual activity, may provoke migraines.
  • Changes in environment: Change of climate, sudden changes of temperature or barometric pressure can start a migraine.
  • Medications: Several prescription and non-prescription medications can aggravate migraines.


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