Causes of Migraine

Migraine is not a commonplace headache at all, but a primary throbbing headache, manifested in the form of attacks, usually capturing half of the head and accompanied by nausea or vomiting, intolerance to bright light and harsh sounds. The disease, as a rule, is chronic and in many cases is inherited. Its danger is that, in addition to a strong throbbing headache, it can provoke more serious problems, including acute cerebrovascular accident. But this is not all the “surprises” that the disease is fraught with: scientists still find it difficult to unequivocally answer what is the cause of migraine. More precisely, experts have several versions of its origin. Trigger factors for headache attacks cause no less questions. Today, official medicine names at least six causes of migraine. However, the onset of an attack is usually contributed not by one factor, but by a combination of several. But the question is: who is more likely to join the ranks of migraine sufferers (and there are about 3 million of them in the world): people whose parents suffer from chronic headache, or those who do not follow a healthy lifestyle? Do gastronomic addictions and age affect migraine propensity? Is there a chance to protect yourself from this disease or is it inevitable, and when it starts one day it will bother constantly? To find answers to these questions, you need to understand what causes migraine attacks.


More than half of migraine cases occur on a genetic basis. The most famous forms of the disease associated with heredity are hemiplegic and ophthalmoplegic forms. Scientists have found that most people with hemiplegic migraine attacks suffer from disorders in certain chromosomes.

In particular, this is the 19th chromosome. A mutation of ionic calcium channels occurs in the brain, and migraine pain occurs as a result of the activation of the so-called trigeminovascular system. Less often, but also quite often (in 20% of cases), a failure results from a chromosome 1 responsible for the sodium channel function. And not so long ago, scientists discovered on the X chromosome an area that is also associated with attacks of a throbbing headache. Thanks to this discovery, it became clear why women (who, as you know, have two X-chromosomes) are more likely to suffer from migraines than men. But scientists made a truly revolutionary discovery in the fall of 2010. Then, experts discovered that any kind of migraine can be the result of a mutation in the KCNK18 gene. These changes, scientists believe, make a person very sensitive to pain, including headaches.

An interesting fact is that migraine from parents to children in a large percentage is transmitted through the female side. If two parents suffer from severe headaches, then their child in 98 cases out of 100 will also suffer from migraine. If only the father has the disease, then the risks of the child are reduced to 20%, if only the mother, then approximately 78%.

The first migraine attacks most often occur at the age of 13-19 years, although there are often cases of the first headache attacks in children 5-6 years old, and in some migraines are diagnosed even at 2 years old. As a rule, boys and girls under 12 years of age suffer from migraine pain in about the same amount. After this age, the number of girls with migraine is approximately 2-3 times higher than the number of men. In women, migraine is more likely to have an aura, and the feature of an attack in the stronger sex is a simple migraine, without an aura, with a pronounced equivalent of pain during an attack. The peak activity of the disease in men and women occurs at the age of 25 to 34 years. After 40 years, the frequency of seizures decreases, and over time, many have their attacks completely.

Another interesting discovery recently made by Russian scientists. In their opinion, there is a connection between migraine and cardiovascular disease. In the pedigree of migraine sufferers, hypertensive relatives are found 2 times more often than in people without headaches. Yes, and migraine workers themselves more often than others are diagnosed with hypertension.

Food & Beverage

A properly designed diet for migraines can, if not completely relieve headaches, then at least reduce their frequency and intensity. Wrong food, on the contrary, provokes attacks.

eating foods rich in tyramine (cocoa, chocolate, citrus fruits, eggs, hard cheeses, celery, tomatoes, as well as fatty and spicy foods, canned food), as well as products with flavor enhancer E621 (monosodium glutamate). And this is not a complete list of products containing substances that can cause a headache attack. The abuse of caffeinated drinks, and then a sharp rejection of them, can also result in a pain attack. In addition, alcohol (red wine, beer, fizzy drinks) also provoke an attack of migraine pain.

It is equally important for migraine workers to maintain a healthy diet (eat 4-5 times a day) and drinking regimen (drink at least 1.5 liters of water per day), since hunger and dehydration are dietary triggers (provocateurs) of migraine. For this reason, many women who follow a strict diet have more severe headache attacks. If a slimming young lady has dinner before 18:00, then she has every chance to wake up in the middle of the night with a strong migraine. The reason for this condition is a sharp decrease in glucose levels in the body.


The fact that hormones are mainly one of the main reasons for the development of migraine has been understood by specialists for a long time. Many researchers call the hormone serotonin, the key substance in regulating mood, the main culprit in severe headaches. Violation of the concentration of this hormone in the brain, in fact, leads to migraine. But the level of this substance does not change on its own, but often depends on the activity of other hormones.

If we talk about changes in the hormonal background, then in the female body these processes proceed much more intensively than in the male ones, since estrogens and female sex hormones are involved in the process. And this is another explanation why the fair sex is more likely to complain of headaches. In approximately 50% of young women suffering from pain on one side of the head, seizures strictly correspond to the menstrual cycle. In most cases, attacks coincide in time with PMS, less often occur directly on critical days. This phenomenon in science has received its own name - menstrual migraine. The cause of the headache is a decrease in estrogen levels 2-3 days before the onset of menstruation and an increase in the content of intrauterine prostaglandin. 2 menstrual cycles out of 3 necessarily occur with simple headaches. If less often - menstrual headache.

As for women in menopause and postmenopausal age, the frequency and severity of migraine attacks in them usually decreases. If this does not happen or the seizures intensify even more, then the cause again should be sought in violation of the hormonal background.

In many cases, getting rid of attacks helps restore overall hormonal levels.

Migraine attacks in women are also associated with pregnancy. Often in expectant mothers, migraine is aggravated or even manifests for the first time. As a rule, this occurs in the first third of pregnancy in the form of a migraine with an aura (even if a woman had previously suffered from migraines without an aura). From mid-pregnancy, the number of seizures usually decreases. The fact is that during this period in the female body the concentration of estrogen and progesterone increases significantly, which, working together, create an analgesic effect. Migraine resumes (sometimes with complications) after childbirth.

Another factor that increases the chances of migraine is taking hormonal drugs that can disrupt the general background in the body. And again, women are at risk, in particular, taking contraceptives or drugs with a high concentration of estrogen. Acceptance of oral contraceptives in the presence of migraine with aura may result in acute cerebrovascular accident. If a woman is diagnosed with chronic migraine, it is safer to take progestational birth control drugs.

Psychological and physiological condition

Any strong feelings (both joyful and depressing) can cause a migraine attack. The science of psychosomatics considers the diagnosis of migraine as the result of psychoemotional disorders. Experts call various psychological causes that provoke seizures in adolescents or adults. This may be an excessive desire to achieve perfection, irritation due to one’s own non-ideality, constant restraint of emotions, low self-esteem, fear, resentment, a sense of coercion always and in everything. If the cause of migraine lies in this, then it is likely that conversations with a therapist will help eliminate daily headaches.

Stress, overexcitation, depression, excitement, shock or excessive positive emotions, physical or mental overload also quite often end with an attack of a headache. By the way, about physical activity. Moderate regular exercise is good for people with migraines. But you should start practicing with light exercises, gradually increasing the level of difficulty. Otherwise, physical stress can lead to a migraine attack. In addition, we must not forget that after playing sports in the body, the level of water and glucose decreases, the lack of which for migraine sufferers is fraught with another attack. To prevent this from happening, it is important to restore fluid and glucose stores in the tissues as quickly as possible.

Headache can be caused by other factors. For example, the so-called migraine of footballers is known, which is the result of moderate but regular damage to the brain during injuries. In people with asthma or a runny nose, an attack can occur against the background of an allergy. A headache in respiratory diseases in most cases is not a migraine, but ARI can provoke an attack. An incorrect posture while working at a computer or driving a car causes tension in the muscles of the neck, which also has every chance of developing into a strong pulsating one-sided headache, or hemicrania. Among other triggers of migraine, a very bright flashing light, smoking or staying in smoky, stuffy rooms, a loud sound, and pungent smells are usually mentioned.

Natural conditions

Many people respond to changing weather with a throbbing headache and weakness. For a long time, this kind of relationship seemed inexplicable. Today, researchers know for sure: migraine attacks are the result of lowering atmospheric pressure. This natural phenomenon causes changes in the tone of blood vessels and the level of oxygen in the blood, which results in a headache. By the way, attacks during flights are also explained by this.

In addition, American experts have found confirmation that a migraine attack can cause not only a change in weather conditions, but also jumps in air temperature. In weather-sensitive patients, 50% of attacks occur precisely against the background of a temperature change. The researchers found another interesting detail: people who are prone to migraine attacks are more sensitive to cooling than to hot weather. Scientists have found an explanation for this recently, and again - in the genes. It turned out that for the predisposition to throbbing headaches and for the reaction to cold, the same sections of DNA are responsible. That is, if a person is cold, he feels pain more acutely.

Among other meteofactors that provoke attacks, mention is increased humidity, cloudiness and thunderstorms with lightning. But it is important to understand that this is not common for everyone. Therefore, it is useful for weather-sensitive people to keep a diary of well-being and record their condition in different weathers.


An essential role in the development of migraine is played by a somnogenic factor. For many, headache attacks occur against the background of lack of sleep or, conversely, too long sleep. There is a saying that successful people get up at 5 in the morning. Psychologists and time managers in such early awakenings see pluses, but neurologists have a different opinion. They warn that very early awakenings are fraught with migraines. But at the same time, experts are talking about the danger of excessive sleep, which can cause the so-called migraine of the day off. She threatens people who are forced to get up very early during the week, and sleep on weekends "for the whole week." To avoid this, people with migraine need to observe a sleep pattern: on weekdays and weekends, get up and go to bed at the same time. Travelers who often have to change time zones and, therefore, disrupt their usual sleep patterns are also at risk of catching a migraine.

Is there a major factor

In recent years, science has made a major breakthrough in the study of the causes of migraine. For more than a decade, the etiology of the disease and forecasts of its development have remained under the scrutiny of scientists. But even in our time, it is difficult for specialists to answer where migraine comes from and what is the main factor causing frequent headaches. It is also difficult to understand why a hereditary disease can occur in one child and not disturb another at all, why a hormonal disorder for some women is fraught with painful attacks, while other people have no idea what migraine is. There are still many questions that scientists continue to search for answers. But one thing is clear: if a person has migraine attacks, you will have to reconsider your regimen and try to exclude factors that official medicine attributes to the causes of headaches.

The author of the article:
Medvedeva Larisa Anatolyevna

Specialty: therapist, nephrologist.

Total length of service: 18 years.

Place of work: Novorossiysk, medical center "Nefros".

Education: 1994-2000 Stavropol State Medical Academy.


  1. 2014 - "Therapy" full-time continuing education courses on the basis of the Kuban State Medical University.
  2. 2014 - "Nephrology" full-time continuing education courses on the basis of GBOUVPO "Stavropol State Medical University".
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