What Causes Migraines: Identifying Factors that Trigger Them

If you suffer from migraine headaches, you know they can be incredibly debilitating. Unfortunately, they can also be incredibly unpredictable. While you may have found a few things that work to reduce the severity of your migraines or even prevent them altogether, understanding the underlying causes can help you take control of your own health and well-being.

Migraine headaches are caused by a combination of genetic, environmental, and lifestyle factors. It isn’t just one single thing that is responsible for your migraine pain—it’s a combination of many factors interacting with one another in different ways. In this article, we’ll explore what those risk factors are and how they interact to cause migraines.

Knowing more about the causes might help equip you with the knowledge and strategies to reduce the frequency or intensity of your migraines.

Understanding Migraine Headaches: Symptoms and Causes

Migraine headaches are an intense form of headache that can be debilitating to those who suffer from them. These types of headaches often include severe pain, throbbing or pulsing sensations, sensitivity to light or sound, and nausea and vomiting. Understanding the causes of these headaches can help people take steps to avoid potential triggers and manage the symptoms.

So what causes migraine headaches?

While there are many factors that may contribute and vary from person to person, some common risk factors include:

Stress: Certain levels of stress can trigger a migraine in some people.

Hormones: Fluctuations in estrogen levels (such as during menstruation) have been linked to an increase in migraine episodes in some women.

Weather changes: Changes in air pressure, humidity, or temperature may trigger a migraine attack in certain individuals.

Diet: Eating certain foods such as aged cheeses, red wine, processed meats, certain vegetables (particularly broccoli), or chocolate may cause a migraine in some people. Furthermore, dehydration or skipping meals may also be triggers for some individuals.

Medications: Overuse of medications used for contraception or treating allergies may trigger a migraine in some people.

Pinpointing Your Risk Factors for Developing Migraines

If you have ever experienced a migraine yourself, you know that it is more than just a really bad headache. It can be a severe and debilitating pain that can last for hours or even days, accompanied by other symptoms such as nausea and sensitivity to light and sound.

So, what causes migraines? The answer is—it varies from person to person. The key to pinpointing what might be causing your migraines lies in identifying your risk factors.

While there’s no one single trigger that’s responsible for all migraines, factors such as stress, fatigue, hormonal changes, certain medications, food and drink triggers, environmental triggers (e.g. bright lights), and genetics can all play a role in the frequency or severity of your migraines.

In addition, if you’re prone to migraines the most important thing you can do is learn how to manage and reduce your individual risk factors. This could involve lifestyle changes such as practicing stress management techniques or developing healthy eating habits. Or it might mean avoiding certain triggers like certain foods or drinks (e.g. caffeine) or managing exposure to light and sound. By taking charge of what triggers your migraines, you can begin to reduce their frequency and intensity until they become more manageable over time.

What Triggers a Migraine?

When it comes to migraine headaches, not everyone’s triggers are the same. But there are some common ones you should be aware of. So what can trigger a migraine?


Stress is one of the main culprits for migraines. Not only does it trigger the release of hormones that cause inflammation in the brain, but it also interferes with your body’s ability to regulate serotonin and other neurotransmitters, which can lead to a migraine headache.


Fluctuations in hormones can also trigger migraines, especially in women. This is why women are more likely than men to experience migraines at certain times of the month or when going through menopause, for example.


What you put in your body can have an effect on it—especially when it comes to migraines. If you’re prone to them, certain foods such as processed meats like hot dogs or bacon, aged cheeses, caffeine, and alcohol can trigger a headache. Also, some food additives can act as triggers like MSG or nitrates that are found in certain processed foods.

Weather Conditions

The weather itself is often blamed for causing headaches and if you suffer from migraines then they could be worse on days with drastic changes in barometric pressure or high humidity levels. Migraine sufferers may also notice that on cold and windy days they get more intense headaches than usual.

Environmental and Lifestyle Factors That May Cause a Migraine

You may have heard that certain environmental and lifestyle factors can cause a migraine. It’s true, and it may be something you can control. Let’s take a look at some of the most common culprits that could be causing your migraines.


Stress can definitely trigger a migraine, especially if you already have a vulnerable genetic history. Stress hormones like cortisol, epinephrine, and norepinephrine can set off migraine headaches for some people. Figuring out how to manage stress in your life—through yoga or meditation, for example—can help reduce migraine episodes.

Food triggers

Certain foods may trigger migraines in some people, like aged cheeses, cured or processed meats, or fermented products like soy sauce and miso paste. Some food additives like aspartame and MSG might play a role as well. If you suspect food triggers, keep a food and symptom diary for at least three months to see if you can spot any patterns between the foods you eat and when your migraines happen.


Caffeine can cause headaches in over-sensitive people; too much caffeine might make an existing headache worse as well as trigger one altogether. To avoid this issue, try to limit your daily caffeine intake to 200-400 milligrams (about two cups of coffee), and don’t abruptly stop drinking caffeine once you’ve already started!

Sleep deprivation

If you’re not getting enough sleep (at least seven hours a night), that could be triggering your migraines too—not only because of the lack of rest but also because poor sleep habits could throw off your body’s natural circadian rhythm and mess

Diagnosing and Managing Your Migraines

One big step in managing your migraines is understanding your risk factors and triggers since these can increase the intensity of your headache or even cause a migraine. A few big ones are fatigue and lack of sleep, changes in weather such as barometric pressure, and stress.

Recognizing Your Symptoms

It’s important to know the signs that you’re going to have a migraine, so you can take steps to reduce its severity before it begins. Common symptoms include visual disturbances, neck stiffness, and pain, sensitivity to sound or light, difficulty concentrating, and confusion. You might also experience sleep issues like insomnia or hypersomnia.

Managing Your Symptoms

Once you’ve taken note of these symptoms, the next step is to do something about them. There are several ways to manage them:

Avoiding certain foods – chocolate, aged cheeses, processed meats, foods with MSG and others can be triggers that lead to migraines at some point down the line.

Getting enough sleep – aim for 7-9 hours a night for optimal quality rest so your body can stay healthy and ward off tension headaches.

Stress management – consider taking up yoga or meditation as a way of reducing stress levels which have been known to lead to increased migraine frequency.

Preventative Strategies to Reduce Your Risk of a Migraine Attack

Another thing to consider when it comes to managing your migraine risk factors is preventive strategies. For some people, it’s all about creating habits that reduce the likelihood of having an attack.

Identification of Triggers

It starts with identifying what triggers your migraines so you can avoid them when possible. This can include anything from food and alcohol to stress, hormones, and even weather patterns. Write down what you’ve noticed sets off a migraine and look for patterns that can help you avoid the same triggers in the future.

Healthy Habits

Sticking to a healthy lifestyle plan is also key to reducing your risk of a migraine attack. This includes getting enough sleep on a consistent basis, exercising regularly, eating healthy foods, and staying hydrated. Establishing positive habits like these helps balance all of your body’s systems and creates fewer conditions for an attack to occur.


Finally, medication is an option for those who have had persistent issues with migraines in the past or who need more aggressive support. Your doctor may be able to prescribe medication specifically designed to reduce your risk of having an attack before it happens or to alleviate the pain if it does occur.

Taking proactive steps like these can help you significantly reduce your risk of suffering another debilitating migraine headache in the future.


In conclusion, when it comes to migraine headaches, knowing your own risk factors can make all the difference. Often, it comes down to a combination of lifestyle choices, environmental exposures, and genetic predisposition. Avoiding potential triggers and finding the right treatment plan for you can help reduce the frequency and intensity of your headaches.

While there’s no one-size-fits-all solution, early diagnosis and treatment are essential to manage migraine symptoms and reduce your risk of experiencing more severe attacks. Over time, your treatment plan can be adjusted to ensure you’re getting the best possible care and the most relief. By understanding your risk factors, you can improve your quality of life and be proactive in preventing migraines.