What are the Causes of Migraine?

According to the Migraine Research Foundation, about 39 million people in the United States suffer from migraine. A migraine is more than a bad headache. The symptoms can be debilitating and interrupt people’s daily lives. People may have many migraines a month that interfere with their family, work, and social activities. It’s a common disorder, but it’s sometimes misunderstood. For instance, many people don’t know the causes of migraine.

About Migraine

A migraine is not just a bad headache. It’s a neurological disease that has a variety of symptoms that go beyond head pain. Symptoms of migraine can be separated into four phases:

  1. Prodrome (up to 24 hours before the migraine)
    • Food cravings
    • Mood changes
    • Fluid retention
    • Fatigue or lack of energy
    • Neck stiffness
  2. Aura (just before or during headache stage)
    • Difficulty speaking clearly
    • Muscle weakness
    • Temporary vision loss
    • Seeing flashes of light, bright spots, or shapes
    • Tingling or prickling sensation in the face, arms, or legs
  1. Headache
    • Head pain that starts gradually and worsens over time
    • Severe recurring throbbing pain, usually on one side of the head (⅓ of people have pain on both sides)
    • Worsening pain when moving
    • Increased sensitivity to light, noise, and smells
    • Nausea and vomiting
  1. Postdrome (after the headache)
    • Exhaustion
    • Weakness
    • Confusion

Common Triggers and Causes of Migraine

There is no single known cause of migraine. However, it is thought that this type of neurological disorder is related to altered blood flow to the brain, abnormal nerve signaling, and neurotransmitters. Genetics may play a role or migraine may be triggered by certain lifestyle or environmental factors.


Research suggests that one of the causes of migraine may be genetics. People with family members who have migraines could be more likely to get them.  A certain type of headache disorder called familial hemiplegic migraine may is caused by a gene called TRESK. Other genetic factors may contribute to issues linked to migraines.


One of the most common triggers or causes of migraine is stress. If you are feeling anxious or stressed, you are more likely to experience a migraine. The episode can occur while you are stressed, but it can also occur right after the stressful time is over.


Sometimes the causes of migraine are hormonal. Changing hormone levels can trigger a migraine. Things that might affect hormones include pregnancy, menstruation, menopause, birth control medication, and hormone replacement therapy (HRT).


Certain foods and drinks have been known to be migraine triggers. However, it should be noted that these triggers differ from patient to patient. There isn’t a lot of hard evidence that certain foods or ingredients are causes of migraines, but individuals do report that these foods or ingredients may trigger migraine:

  • Alcohol
  • Aged cheeses
  • Chocolate
  • Cured or processed meats
  • Fermented or pickled food
  • Yeast
  • Certain fruits and nuts


Dehydration is a known cause of headaches. That extends to migraine as well. According to the American Migraine Foundation, about ⅓ of people with migraine say dehydration is a trigger. 

Sleep Problems

Having an irregular sleep schedule can cause a variety of health problems, including migraine. Sleep is a restorative process, so if you don’t get enough sleep, your brain doesn’t get adequate repair and renewal.


Overuse of pain medication can trigger migraines. This includes over the counter drugs and prescription drugs. Some women also experience migraines as a side effect of oral hormonal birth control.

Bright Light

Exposure to bright or flashing light is often a trigger for a migraine. A condition called photophobia can be caused by natural light and fluorescent or flickering lights. Light can be one of the causes of migraine and light sensitivity is a common symptom.

Changes in Weather

Weather changes like excessive heat or changes in barometric pressure have been known to trigger migraine attacks in some people. Humidity and heat may also cause dehydration, which can in turn lead to migraine. 

Make an Appointment at Trident Pain Centers

At Trident Pain Center, our pain specialists help patients with a wide range of conditions manage their pain so they can live fuller lives. For patients with chronic headaches or migraine pain, a treatment called SphenoCath may be an option. Our health professionals will evaluate your case based on your specific pain, your history, pain management, and diagnostic tests. Contact us today to schedule an appointment or to learn more about migraine pain relief.

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