Migraine is about how a person’s brain deals with sensory information, such as pain, light or sound. Migraineurs have a very sensitive nervous system, particularly to change. Chemical changes in the brain cause the attack to start, which leads to a chain of events that result in the brain responding abnormally to normal signals (e.g., light sensitivity, visual disturbances, dizziness, or numbness or tingling). Narrowing and opening of blood vessels in the brain may also play a role. Migraine often runs in families so you may have inherited genes linked to migraine.
Differences within the body can make individuals more prone to migraine but other ‘outside’ things are important in causing migraine attacks. Being unpredictable, migraine can be ‘triggered’ by numerous things, including:
- Foods, e.g., chocolate, cheese, red wine, citrus fruits
- Psychological factors, e.g., stress, anxiety, depression, tiredness
- Environment, e.g., high altitude or humidity, noise, flickering lights
- Foods containing caffeine, or food additives (e.g., tyramine)
- Sleep (too much or too little)
- Drugs, e.g., oral contraceptives, sleeping pills
- Lack of food or irregular meals
- Change in routine
- Hormonal changes in women
- Mild dehydration
But it’s not that simple, because it is not usually possible to say that this or that causes migraine. While trigger factors certainly play a role if you are predisposed to migraine, it may be useful to keep a migraine diary with details of your migraine (e.g., when it started/ended, and symptoms) and aspects about your daily life (e.g., what you ate/drank, medication, exercise, sleep, and menstrual cycle). You may be able to determine a pattern and avoid any culprits.