Why Do I Have Migraine?

Your arms and legs feel tingly again. Your eyes start to blur, and you see spots and colored flashes. Now you feel lightheaded and smell strange odors.

You’ve been here enough to know what’s next. You’ve got a migraine.

You know how yours start, but have no idea why you get them. What makes you more likely than some other people to get these awful headaches?

And what exactly is a migraine? It’s a disabling disease that  causes an extremely painful headache that is accompanied by nausea or vomiting, and sensitivity to lights and sounds.

The head pain that occurs with migraine  is usually  a severe, pounding headache that can last hours or even days. Migraine is much more than just a headache however. Other symptoms vary from person to person, but you may see spots, have blurred vision, or smell strange odors. You might be sensitive to light, and feel sick to your stomach, even vomit.

Why Do I Get Them?

Doctors aren’t totally sure what causes migraine headaches, but they think imbalances in certain brain chemicals may play a role. Your genes and other elements are also likely factors.

While researchers haven’t been able to pinpoint a cause, they know that several things increase your chances of having migraines, including:

Your genes. If someone in your family gets migraine headaches, you’re more likely to get them than someone without that family history.

Your age. Migraine headaches can hit at any point in your life, but you’ll usually get your first one in your teens. The headaches tend to peak in your 30s and become less severe later in life.

Your gender. Women are about three times more likely to get them than men.

Hormonal changes. If you’re a woman and take birth control pills or hormone replacement therapy, they can make your migraine symptoms worse. But some women have fewer migraine headaches when they take these medications.

What Triggers a Migraine?

If you’ve ever had a migraine, all you want to do is avoid the next one. And there are several things that do trigger this type of headache -- some that you can avoid, some you can’t:

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Hormonal changes. If you take birth control pills or hormone replacement therapy, they can make your migraines worse. But some women have fewer migraines when they take these medications.

Emotional stress. This is one of the most common migraine triggers. That’s because when you’re stressed, your brain releases chemicals that cause your “fight or flight” response. Anxiety, worry, and fear can create even more tension and make a migraine worse.

Certain foods. Salty, processed foods and aged cheeses like blue cheese are known triggers. And the artificial sweetener aspartame, and flavor enhancer monosodium glutamate, or MSG, may cause them, too.

Skipping meals. If you miss a meal, your blood sugar could drop, triggering a headache.

Alcohol and caffeine. Do you ever get a raging headache after that glass of wine? Alcoholic drinks, and drinks high in caffeine are migraine triggers.

Sensory overload. Bright lights, loud sounds, and strong smells can bring on these headaches in some people.

Changes in sleep pattern. If you get too much or too little sleep, you may get a migraine. Traveling between time zones? Jet lag can be a cause, too.

Physical strain. An intense workout, like heavy exercise or even sex, can cause a migraine. You should still be active, but you might do better with a more moderate pace.

Changes in weather. This is a big trigger. So is a change in the overall air pressure.

While you might not be able to prevent migraine triggers altogether, some simple things -- like regular, good-quality sleep, a healthy diet, exercise, and stress management may help you stop them before they start.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Lawrence C. Newman, MD on August 17, 2017

Sources

SOURCES:

Mayo Clinic: “Migraine,” “Migraine: Simple steps to head off the pain,” “Migraine, symptoms and causes.”

KidsHealth.org: “Migraines: What a Pain!”

Cleveland Clinic: “Migraine Headaches.”

American Cancer Society: “Aspartame: What is Aspartame?”

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