Migraine - Causes 

Causes of migraines 

The exact cause of migraines is unknown, although they are 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 is 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.

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 are known as menstrual-related migraines and they usually occur between two days before the start of your period to three days after. Some women only experience migraines around this time, but most experience them at other times too.

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


Page last reviewed: 14/04/2014

Next review due: 14/04/2016


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The 2 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

peaceflower said on 29 March 2013

Lynn, I have had fatigue since I was in my teens. I have had four children and found after my second that I was so tired alot of the time that I couldn't stand up for long. After my fourth child was born, four years ago I had what was thought to have been a stroke, but after a night in hospital and various scans I was told I had atypical migraine. I was given various medications by a consultant and then told that if I had the migraines 2 days of the month instead of 28 days, it would be easier to treatt me. Fromm that time until now I have had episodes mos days of feeling weighed down. I cut gluten out of my diet completely about 2 years ago and found myself better able to function. Since then I have had times when I have become very breathless, with weak muscles - even making speech difficult. I saw an allergy specialist this week who told me to take antihistamine daily. I have experienced being in a supermarket and finding it increasingly difficult to manage walking and breathing. The doctor described it to me as possibly being low blood pressure, brought on by an allergic reaction to wheat/gluten. I am being tested this week for allergy to wheat and gluten (not coeliac disease) as it affects my work and social life.

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Lynn Powell Watts said on 18 October 2012

I have had migraines, headaches and fatigue since I was 19 and have tried many remedies. I started the Dukan lo-carb diet at the beginning of this year and have almost eliminated the problems. I found a small piece of anecdotal research from other women who had gone on the Atkins lo-carb diet and benefited from the reduction or elimination of migraines. I would like to know if anyone is seriously looking into this as a possible solution and why it might work.

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