Migraine is a medical condition involving severe, recurring headaches and other symptoms. A migraine episode is primarily a type of headache. An episode generally occurs in stages and can last for several days. Severe cases can be very harmful and affect an individual’s daily life, including your ability to study or work. Hence it becomes very important to know the migraine causes.
Migraines could affect people in different ways. There is a range of triggers, symptoms, severity, and frequency that vary from one person to another. Some people have more than one episode each week, while others might have them only occasionally.
In 2018, researchers identified that more than 15% of adults in the US had experienced a migraine episode or a severe headache within the last three months.
Another research from 2015 found that migraine affects over 19% of females and only 9% of males. Episodes are more common in people aged 18 – 44 years, but they can happen anytime, even during childhood.
Migraine Causes – An Introduction
You should know that the cause of migraine headaches is complicated and has not been fully understood. When you have a severe headache, specific nerves in your blood vessels send pain signals to your brain.
As a result, your brain releases inflammatory substances into the nerves and blood vessels of your head. But it is unclear why your nerves do that.
It is indeed true that the exact cause of migraines is unknown. But they are believed to result from some abnormal brain activity that temporarily affects the brain’s nerve signals, chemicals, and blood vessels.
It is unclear what causes this change in brain activity, but your genes may make you more likely to experience migraines due to a specific trigger.
Migraine Causes – What Researchers Say
Indeed, doctors do not know exactly what causes your migraine headaches. Changes in the level of a body chemical, serotonin, causes migraine headache.
Serotonin plays a vital role in your body, and it can affect your blood vessels. When your serotonin levels are high, blood vessels shrink. On the contrary, when serotonin levels fall, your blood vessels dilate or swell. This swelling of your blood vessels can cause pain or other problems as they press on nearby nerves.
Another interesting aspect under study is that migraine headaches go along with a spreading pattern of electrical activity in the brain. In comparison, studies are still ongoing in this area.
Some research suggests there are heredity factors for migraines, meaning these symptoms might run in families. Researchers have identified some genes linked with migraines. Though, they are unsure why these genes might impact some people more than others. Individuals who get migraines often have abnormal genes that control the functions of specific brain cells.
The American Migraine Foundation reported that if one of your parents has migraines, you will have a 50% chance of having them. On the other hand, if both of your parents have migraines, your chances jump up to 75%. Ultimately, migraine headaches seem to be caused by a combination of factors that include genetics, lifestyle, and environment.
Women are more likely to have chronic migraines (migraines that occur 15 days a month or more). Hormones are responsible for these chronic migraines. Hormones fluctuate each month around the time of your period. They can also fluctuate if you are pregnant or going through menopause.
What Triggers a Migraine?
Many possible migraine triggers are suggested, including emotional, hormonal, physical, dietary, environmental, and medicinal factors.
Most of these triggers are very individual and vary from person to person. You should keep a diary as it would help to see if you can identify a consistent trigger. It can also sometimes be difficult to tell if something is a trigger. In some cases, it is difficult to say what you are experiencing is an early symptom of a migraine attack.
There are a variety of factors that can trigger a migraine attack. Even a combination of triggers, not a single thing or event is more likely to set off an attack. Your response to triggers also can vary. Common triggers include:
1 Emotional stress
For almost 70% of people with migraines, stress is the biggest culprit. One study revealed that 50-70% of individuals had a significant association between their daily migraine activity and daily stress levels. Hence if you are stressed, you will feel that migraine is a never-ending, exhausting cycle.
Emotional stress is perhaps one of the most common triggers of migraine headaches. During stressful events or periods, your brain releases certain chemicals. These chemicals help combat the situation, commonly known as the “flight or fight” response.
The release of these chemicals can bring on a migraine headache. Other emotions such as worry, anxiety, and excitement could also increase muscle tension and dilate blood vessels. These conditions can make your migraine even severe.
To cope with the condition, start making a list of the things known to cause you undue tension and stress. Then try to work towards reducing these triggers in your life. Relaxation therapy, biofeedback, meditation, exercise, and maintaining a consistent sleep schedule can prove to be extremely helpful in managing stress.
These techniques will also eliminate all stress from your life, providing long-term benefits. They can also change your body’s physiological response, thus reducing the stress that triggers a migraine attack.
2 Hormonal changes in women
Women are three times more likely to have migraine headaches than men. Up to 75% of women find that they experience attacks around the time of their menstrual period.
This is commonly referred to as “menstrual migraine”, occurring only during a period due to the change in estrogen and progesterone levels. During this phase, there is an abrupt drop in estrogen that triggers menses, also triggering migraines.
Hormonal changes can also be brought on when you have birth control pills and hormone replacement therapy. Migraine headaches are generally worse between puberty and menopause. The primary reason being the estrogen fluctuations which generally does not occur in young girls and post-menopausal women.
If your hormones are a vital factor driving your migraines, you might even have fewer headaches after menopause. Interestingly, hormonal changes do not appear to trigger migraines in men.
You can cope with this condition by making changes to your lifestyle and diet. There are methods of birth control that can stabilize hormone levels and therefore prevent future migraine attacks. Make sure to meet with your headache specialist or your gynecologist so you can find the right migraine treatment plan.
3 Caffeine and Alcohol
Consuming too much caffeine or withdrawal from caffeine could cause headaches. The probable reason being when the caffeine level abruptly drops. During such differences, your blood vessels seem to become sensitized to caffeine, and when you do not get it, a headache might occur.
At times, doctors recommend caffeine to help with treating acute migraine attacks but it should not be used frequently.
Many individuals find their migraine symptoms are heightened after taking alcohol or caffeine. Conversely, many others say that a cup of coffee can stop your migraine symptoms. In addition, some medications designed to fight migraine pain are seen to contain a dose of caffeine.
Although migraine patients consider red wine the principal alcoholic migraine trigger, studies prove that other types of alcohol can also cause similar effects.
In order to cope with the condition, try to limit your intake when it comes to alcohol consumption. If you start to experience a migraine attack ‘s warning signs and symptoms immediately after drinking alcohol, take your medication immediately.
4 Irregular sleep schedule – Migraine causes
There is a close connection between migraine and sleep. Remember, sleep renews and repairs all parts of your body including your brain.
So it makes sense that when the sleep schedule becomes irregular or is disturbed, you are more prone to migraine attacks. Any change in normal sleep patterns can trigger an attack.
Something interesting to note when it comes to sleep – nearly half of all migraine attacks occur between 4 to 9 in the morning, putting individuals at a greater risk for developing a sleep disorder.
To address this issue, your doctor would suggest going to bed at the same time every day and aim to get at least 7-8 hours of sleep. Eliminate common activities like TV, texting, reading, and listening to music while in bed.
5 Sensitivity to specific chemicals and preservatives in foods
Certain foods and beverages like aged cheese, alcoholic beverages(alcoholic drinks), chocolate, and food additives like nitrates found in hot dogs, pepperoni, and luncheon meats might be the cause. Even fermented or pickled foods might be responsible for triggering up to 30% of migraines.
6 Other Possible Migraine Triggers
- Missing meals is also one of the factors. If you delay a meal, it might also trigger your migraine headache.
- Daily use of pain-relieving medications might also be a factor. If you use medicine meant to relieve headache pain too often, it can cause a rebound headache, observed in many.
- Lights have also been seen to affect migraines. Flashing lights, light from the TV or computer, fluorescent lights, and sunlight can also trigger migraines.
- Changing weather conditions like barometric pressure changes, storm fronts, strong winds, or changes in altitude might also trigger.
- If you do not drink enough water or dieting, it could also be a trigger. Drink more water for instant migraine relief.
- In addition if you are exposed to smoke, perfumes or other odors you might have an attack.
- Certain medications might cause blood vessels to swell, causing migraines.
Remember, everyone’s experience with migraine headaches and migraine triggers is different. Do not feel embarrassed when talking to your doctor or headache specialist about your triggers. This will help them give you a proper diagnosis and the best treatment plan for your condition and symptoms.
For more information on the various migraine triggers and how to manage them, give us a call today, and our specialist will guide you. Contact us directly today.