Causes of Migraines

The cause of migraine is unknown. The condition may result from a series of reactions in the central nervous system caused by changes in the body or in the environment. There is often a family history of the disorder, suggesting that migraine sufferers may inherit sensitivity to triggers that produce inflammation in the blood vessels and nerves around the brain and scalp, causing pain.

Triggers for Migraines

A trigger is any stimulus that initiates a process or reaction. Commonly identified migraine triggers include the following:

  • Alcohol (e.g., red wine)
  • Environmental factors (e.g., weather, altitude, time zone changes)
  • Exertion
  • Foods that contain caffeine (e.g., coffee, chocolate), monosodium glutamate (MSG; used to enhance flavor in several processed foods and in Chinese food), nitrates (found in processed foods, hot dogs), and artificial sweeteners (e.g., aspartame)
  • Glare, contrasting patterns
  • Hormonal changes in women
  • Hunger
  • Lack of sleep
  • Medications (over-the-counter and prescription)
  • Perfume
  • Stress

Publication Review By: Sandeep K. Aggarwal, M.D.

Published: 01 Jan 2002

Last Modified: 25 Sep 2015