What Causes Migraine and Chronic Migraine?

What Causes Migraine and Chronic Migraine?

Migraine headache symptoms

Anyone who has experienced a migraine knows they’re painful. These intense headaches can cause:

  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • sensitivity to sounds
  • sensitivity to smells
  • sensitivity to light
  • changes in vision

If you experience sporadic migraines, the headache and symptoms may last only a day or two. If you suffer from chronic migraines symptoms may occur 15 days or more each month.

What causes migraines?

Migraine headaches are a bit of a mystery. Researchers have identified possible causes, but they don’t have a definitive explanation. Potential theories include:

  • An underlying central nervous disorder may set off a migraine episode when triggered.
  • Irregularities in the brain’s blood vessel system, or vascular system, may cause migraines.
  • A genetic predisposition may cause  migraines
  • Abnormalities of brain chemicals and nerve pathways may cause migraine episodes.

What can trigger a migraine

Unfortunately, scientists have yet to identify a cause. The best way to avoid migraines is to avoid what starts them in the first place. Migraine trigger are unique to each person, and it’s not uncommon for a person to have several migraine triggers. The most common migraine triggers include:


Salty foods or aged foods, such as cheese and salami, may cause migraine headaches. Highly processed foods can also trigger a migraine.

Skipping meals

People with a history of migraines shouldn’t skip meals or fast, unless it’s done under a doctor’s supervision.


Alcohol and caffeine may cause these headaches.

Preservatives and sweeteners

Some artificial sweeteners, such as aspartame, can trigger a migraine. The popular preservative monosodium glutamate (MSG) can, as well. Read labels to avoid them.

Sensory stimulation

Unusually bright lights, loud noises, or strong smells, may set off a migraine headache; flashlights, bright sun, perfume, paint, and cigarette smoke, are all common triggers.

Hormonal changes

Hormone shifts are a common migraine trigger for women. Many women report developing migraine headaches right before or even during their period. Others report hormone-induced migraines during pregnancy or menopause. That’s because estrogen levels change during these time and can trigger a migraine episode.

Hormone medications

Medications, such as birth control and hormone replacement therapies, can trigger or worsen a migraine. However, in some cases, these medicines can actually reduce a woman’s migraine headaches.

Other medications

Vasodilators, such as nitroglycerin, can trigger a migraine.


Constant mental stress can cause migraines. Home life and work life are two of the most common sources of stress and can damage your mind and body if you can’t control it effectively.

Physical stress

Extreme exercise, physical exertion, and even sexual activity can trigger migraine headaches.

Sleep cycle changes

If you’re not getting regular, routine sleep, you may experience more migraines. Don’t bother trying to “make up” for lost sleep on the weekends, either. Too much sleep is just as likely to cause a headache as too little.

Weather changes

What Mother Nature is doing outside may affect how you feel on the inside. Changes in weather and shifts in barometric pressure can trigger a migraine.

Factors that increase your risk for migraines

Not everyone exposed to migraine triggers will develop a headache. However, some people are more sensitive to them. Several risk factors can help predict who is more prone to having migraine headaches. These risk factors include:


Migraines can first appear at any age. However, most people will experience their first migraine during adolescence. According to the Mayo Clinic, migraines usually improve after age 30.

Family history

If a close family member has migraines, you’re more likely to have them. In fact, 90 percent of migraine patients have a family history of migraines. Parents are the best predictor of your risk. If one or both of your parents have a history of migraines, your risk is higher.


During childhood, boys experience migraine headaches more than girls. After puberty, however, women are three times more likely to have migraines than men.

Talk to your doctor

Make an appointment with your doctor if you are having migraines. They can diagnose the underlying condition if there is one, and prescribe treatments. Your doctor can also help you determine what lifestyle changes you need to make to manage your symptoms. 

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