What is the underlying cause of migraine?

In most people, there are triggers that can cause migraine attacks, such as:

These are three current theories about what causes migraine pain.

Doctors don’t know exactly what causes migraines. It appears that migraine headaches may be caused in part by changes in the level of a body chemical called serotonin. Serotonin plays many roles in the body, and it can have an effect on the blood vessels. When serotonin levels are high, blood vessels constrict (shrink). When serotonin levels fall, the blood vessels dilate (swell). This swelling can cause pain or other problems. Another aspect that is being studied is that migraine headaches go along with a spreading pattern of electrical activity in the brain.

We don't know what causes migraine, but some things are more common in people who have them:

What Causes Migraine and Chronic Migraine? - Healthline

The underlying causes of migraines are unknown. However, they are believed to be related to a mix of environmental and genetic factors. They run in families in about two-thirds of cases and rarely occur due to a single gene defect. While migraines were once believed to be more common in those of high intelligence, this does not appear to be true. A number of are associated, including , , and , as are many biological events or .

Triggers do not always cause migraines and avoiding triggers does not always prevent migraines.

Food and drink: Certain food and drink (see list below) may cause migraines. Dehydration and dieting or skipping meals may also trigger migraines.

Ocular migraines are believed to have the same causes as migraine headaches.


There's a lot of misunderstanding and controversy about the cause of migraine. What exactly is migraine, and where does it come from? What starts a migraine attack? Let's see if we can get a clear answer to some of these questions.Research is confirming that migraine is a genetically based disease. We're learning that migraine runs in families. If both your parents are migraineurs, chances are you will suffer from migraine as well. Even if only one parent has migraine, there's a 50% chance you'll have it as well.

Recent studies are linking specific genetic defects with migraine. For example, Lyn Griffiths, the director of Griffith University's Genomics Research Centre and professor of molecular genetics has been searching for the cause of migraine. She believes that various flaws in your genes combine to bring on migraine. In the summer of 2004 she discovered some genes related to hormones that may influence migraine. In December 2004 researchers at the Duke University Medical Center reported a genetic defect in some people that causes a decrease in production.

We're learning that the brain of a migraineur reacts differently to visual input. It seems to be hypersensitive; the brain may over react to triggers and bring on pain that would never occur in a non-sufferer.

All these things are giving us a picture of what the migraine disease is all about. Today migraine is sometimes referred to as Migraine is a biological disease.
Before we begin, we need to understand what we mean by the word "cause". Are we talking about the cause of migraine as a disease, or simply the cause of a specific migraine attack? Usually when someone gets migraine symtpoms, they talk about "triggers". A trigger is something that starts the migraine chain reaction that leads to things like migraine headache or nausea. But a trigger is not a cause of migraine, as a disease. If you're not a , you're not going to get a migraine attack, no matter how much coffee you drink or sleep you miss.

So for the most part, when we are talking about the cause of migraine, we want to know what actually causes the disease in the first place, the root cause. But we have a problem...

Research recently presented at the International Headache Society suggests that cocoa may actually protect the nerve cells that cause migraine headaches. But 22 percent of headache sufferers identify chocolate as one of their headache triggers. "Chocolate may be getting a bad rap as a migraine trigger," says Dr. Rosen. “Many people with migraines have increased appetite and food cravings just before their headaches start." Reaching for a bar may be the result of a migraine, rather than the cause.There are a number of things that seem to happen during a migraine attack. Something in the brain stem may start sending out confusing signals. The right messages may be short circuited. may be triggered by a wave of increased electrical activity and blood flow, followed by a time of calm.

The blood vessels or covering of the brain may become inflamed - the cause of migraine headache, bringing on the throbbing pain. A whole number of things may start to happen throughout the body, bringing on the many symptoms of migraine, which can be different in everyone. Some people do not get actual pain, others do. Some experience nausea, some do not. Some see before migraine, most don't.

If you want to go deeper to understand the latest research on migraine, the brain, and the migraine chain reaction, read .

If you're confused, you're not alone! As we talked about before, there's a great deal of controversy and misunderstanding about the cause of migraine. We still have a lot to learn about what's really happening. But there are four things you can do right now if you want to learn more:

1. Read about - what starts a migraine attack
2. Read about some of
3. Check out this overview of .
4. Keep up with the latest - check out the
5. Subscribe to the free ezine, HeadWay - current research and tried and true tips about headaches, delivered free to your inbox. Subscribe below:

The best way to find the triggers that cause your migraines is to keep a diary or log of your migraine attacks for a few weeks or months. You will find a printable template for this kind of diary here.A migraine diary can help you record the following things on days you have migraines: What was happening around the time the migraine started?Did you feel stressed out?Did you get enough sleep?Did you eat anything out of the ordinary?When did you have a migraine today?MorningNoonAfternoonNightHow long did the migraine last? __ hoursHow severe was the pain?MildModerateSevereDid you take any medication? (If so: what kind and how much)NoYes, type:Recently, I had a new patient visit my office with a presenting problem of migraine headaches. If you have never had one, you are lucky. They consist of debilitating head pain and other symptoms including nausea, vomiting, and sensitivity to sounds and light. In extreme cases, one can feel weakness on one side of the body that can last minutes to days. An article in the Sunday provides a bit of a first person account of migraines. Natural migraine treatment requires us to know the cause. I have identified at least 9 different causes of migraines. In this article, I want to explore those different causes and how to possibly find a cure for migraines.Gastrointestinal: This is distinct from a liver problem. Sometimes, there is a problem with the foods we eat because we aren’t digesting them. This could be due to food sensitivities causing GI distress. For reasons unknown, this can lead to migraines. Changes in the healthy flora in the intestines can lead to this issue. These organisms help protect the gut and allow us to digest food well. The reason why so many people react to so many foods is that the gut is too loose. Leaky gut is a real problem, and one of its symptoms is migraine. Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth or SIBO can be the culprit too. Proper diagnosis of this problem starts with an elimination diet. If the problem isn’t completely resolved, then I run other tests. SIBO, Leaky Gut, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, and Crohn’s can all be causes of migraines. Treatment varies based on the diagnosis.