What is causing your migraine?
Do you feel a throbbing pain in the sides of your head?
Does it make you feel dizzy or worsen with movement?
Do you also feel confused when the pain starts?
If your answers to all or some of these questions are positive, then it’s highly likely that you suffer from a type of headache known as a migraine.
As part of our article series on migraines, this article goes deep into the different causes of migraines, specifying what it is that may be causing yours.
Read about the symptoms of migraines.
How does a migraine occur?
Migraines rank high up on the list of ailments that trouble people all over the world. Research has been done on what causes them, and different findings have led to slightly similar results. Even then, so proper conclusion has been made as per the actual cause of migraines.
According to the Headache Australia website,
Certain parts of the brain employing monoamines, such as serotonin and noradrenaline, appear to be in a hyper sensitive state, reacting promptly and excessively to stimuli such as emotion, bombardment with sensory impulses, or any sudden change in the internal or external environment.”
If the brain system systems controlling the cerebral cortex become active, the brain starts to shut down, a process starting at the back of the brain in the visual cortex and working slowly forward.
The pain nucleus of the trigeminal nerve becomes spontaneously active; pain is felt in the head or upper neck and blood flow in the face and scalp increases significantly.
Noradrenaline is released from the adrenal gland and causes the platelets to release serotonin. Serotonin in circulation is thought to reflect levels of this neurotransmitter in the brain.”
But a simple understanding of how pain is managed by the brain may help us understand migraines even better.
When the body experiences pain, the brain’s pain centres are activated. People with high chances of getting migraines (such as those for whom it runs in the family) have a lower rate of activation of these pain centres, which makes them hypersensitive to any stimuli such as light that can cause pain.
These stimuli trigger nerve cell activity and the release of neurotransmitters, which in turn activates inflammation of blood vessels and feeds the pain structures deep inside the brain.
That nerve cell activity is seen by the excitement of the nerves that branch off from the brain stem, resulting in dilation of blood vessels and a swift increase in the flow of blood. The result is a throbbing pain in one side of the head or both sides and a host of other symptoms.
The National Headache Foundation of America estimate that up to 80% of migraine victims have a family history of the disease, and that women are 3 times more likely to experience the condition than men.
Types of migraines
Migraines are classified according to the occurrence of an aura before the migraine starts. An aura is a state of slight confusion marked by visual disruption and dizziness. In people who experience it, is a sign of an oncoming migraine.
- Classical migraines: Always come after an aura
- Common migraines: Happen without an aura happening
- Status migraines: May be classical or common, but last for more than 72 hours.
Read about how to effectively treat migraines.
Causes of Migraines
The exact cause of migraines is unknown, but research shows that migraines are triggered by a number of factors. The triggers vary from person to person, depending on the genetics, immediate environment and a number of other factors. Look through the triggers below to learn more about your migraines.
Hormonal triggers (especially among women) such as pregnancy, ovulation, menstruation, hormone replacement therapy, use of birth control etc.
Environmental triggers such as loud noises, bright lights, strong scents/perfumes, abrupt weather changes etc.
Physical triggers such as stress and anxiety, sleep change patterns, illness such as flu, vigorous exercise, body pain etc.
Food based triggers such as skipping meals, substituting caffeine, extreme diet changes, alcohol binging etc.
Particular foods are known to trigger migraines, especially;
- Foods that contain the compound tyramine such as old cheese, smoked fish, chicken, red wine
- Foods that contain monosodium glutamate
- Some fruits
- Some meats
- Spicy foods with strong odours
Brain tumours (in some cases)
Want to find out more about migraines? We’ve got all the information you’re looking for!
In our next article, we explore the various signs and symptoms that signify an oncoming migraine.