What Causes Migraines?

Lindsay Knake

| 2 min read

Anyone who has had a migraine knows how debilitating it can be. The severe pain and accompanying symptoms can make daily life feel difficult or even impossible.
A migraine is a headache that causes throbbing pain that is often on one side of your head, according to the Mayo Clinic. Other symptoms can include nausea, vomiting, extreme sensitivity to sound and light, and an aura. The aura can include flashes of light or blind spots, tingling feelings in your body, and difficult speaking. Migraines can last for hours or days.
There are four stages of a migraine you could experience:
  • Prodrome: Physical changes that can warn of an approaching migraine, including mood changes, neck stiffness, and appetite changes
  • Aura: Visual disturbances, weakness, and tingling sensations that can last for up to an hour
  • Attack: The severe pain that lasts from a few hours to a few days if untreated
  • Post-drome: A feeling of fatigue and drain for a day or so after the attack
Migraines have many different causes:
  • Work or life stress
  • Intense physical exertion
  • Alcohol
  • Caffeine
  • Weather and barometric pressure changes
  • Missing sleep
  • Certain foods, such as processed foods and additives
  • Missing meals
Other causes include:
  • Genetics: Most people who experience migraines have a relative who also suffers from migraines, according to the Cleveland Clinic
  • Sensory stimuli: Bright or flashing lights, loud sounds, and strong smells can cause migraines.
  • Medications: Vasodilators such as nitroglycerin and oral contraceptives can contribute to migraines. Some people find hormonal medications, however, reduce the occurrence of migraines, according to the Mayo Clinic.
  • Hormonal changes: Estrogen fluctuations, such as before or during menstrual periods, pregnancy, and menopause are common causes of migraines.Women are also significantly more likely than men to have migraine headaches, according to the Mayo Clinic.
For some people who have migraines, common pain relievers and triggeravoidance are enough to relieve the pain. However, these medications can cause rebound headaches if taken multiple times per week, according to the Cleveland Clinic. Some people will need a prescription medication to prevent and manage migraines.
Keep a record of migraines, including noting any potential triggers, to discuss with your health care provider. You may need to see a specialist such as a neurologist for severe migraines or if you have a family history of the headaches. 

A Healthier Michigan is sponsored by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, a nonprofit, independent licensee of the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association.
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