Causes of Migraine Headache & Migraine Triggers

Headache Education > Migraine Headaches > Causes


The causes of headaches, particularly migraines, are not well understood. It was once believed that enlarged arteries, called vasodilatation, caused the head pain associated with a migraine headache. The throbbing nature typical of migraine headaches was thought to be the pulse of the heart. Doctors now believe that a process called neurogenic inflammation may be responsible. Certain cells in the brain called mast cells release substances that trigger pain and cause blood vessels to vasodilate, triggering an inflammatory reaction. The nerves become more sensitive to otherwise innocuous stimuli, causing every pulse of the artery to fire, giving the pain the throbbing quality that is so characteristic of the migraine headache.

Migraine Triggers

There are a variety of headache triggers that can exacerbate migraine headaches. iHeadache allows you to track possible headache triggers. Some of the most common headache triggers include:

  • Air Travel
  • Alcohol
  • Altitude
  • Aspartame
  • Chocolate
  • Caffeine Increase
  • Caffeine Decrease
  • Heat
  • Hormones
  • Lighting
  • Menstrual Cycle
  • MSG
  • Neck Pain
  • Odors
  • Sexual Activity
  • Sleep Deprivation
  • Too Much Sleep
  • Smoke
  • Stress Increase
  • Stress Release
  • Skipped Meals
  • Weather Front

This educational content was written by Brian D. Loftus, MD, a neurologist, headache specialist and developer of iHeadache. The science and study of headaces is changing rapidly. If there is information on this page that is incorrect or needs revision, please contact us.

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