The exact cause of migraines is unknown, but they're thought to be the result of abnormal brain activity temporarily affecting nerve signals, chemicals and blood vessels in the brain.

It's not clear what causes this change in brain activity, but it's possible that your genes make you more likely to experience migraines as a result of a specific trigger.

Migraine triggers

Many possible migraine triggers have been suggested, including hormonal, emotional, physical, dietary, environmental and medicinal factors.

These triggers are very individual but it may help to keep a diary to see if you can identify a consistent trigger. It can also sometimes be difficult to tell if something is really a trigger or if what you're experiencing is an early symptom of a migraine attack.

Hormonal changes

Some women experience migraines around the time of their period, possibly because of changes in the levels of hormones such as oestrogen around this time.

These type of migraines usually occur between two days before the start of your period to three days after. Some women only experience migraines around this time, which is known as pure menstrual migraine. However, most women experience them at other times too and this is called menstrual related migraine.

Many women find their migraines improve after the menopause, although the menopause can trigger migraines or make them worse in some women.

Emotional triggers:

  • stress
  • anxiety
  • tension
  • shock
  • depression
  • excitement

Physical triggers:

Dietary triggers:

  • missed, delayed or irregular meals
  • dehydration
  • alcohol
  • the food additive tyramine
  • caffeine products, such as tea and coffee
  • specific foods such as chocolate, citrus fruit and cheese

Environmental triggers:

  • bright lights
  • flickering screens, such as a television or computer screen
  • smoking (or smoky rooms)
  • loud noises
  • changes in climate, such as changes in humidity or very cold temperatures
  • strong smells
  • a stuffy atmosphere

Medication:


Page last reviewed: 26/05/2016

Next review due: 26/05/2018