The exact causes of migraine headaches are unclear but a key element is a change in blood flow around the brain from a variety of triggers. Migraine headaches are vascular headaches that may be caused by chemical changes in the brain. Before the headache begins, a drop in level of the message-sending chemical serotonin narrows blood vessels and causes symptoms of aura (flashing lights, lines or vision loss). This is followed by an enlargement of the temporal artery and further chemical releases under the skin of the temple causing pain and inflammation. Hormones are also linked to migraines and women are more likely to suffer a migraine attack during the time of their period.
Triggers for migraine headaches can be from emotional, physical, environmental, dietary and pharmacological factors. Emotional factors such as stress, anxiety, depression, trauma or excitement can trigger a migraine attack. Physical factors such as being overly tired, poor posture, muscle tension, sleep disturbance and travel can lead to migraine headaches. Environmental factors of loud noise, bright lights, pollution, strong odours, computer monitors, air quality and temperature changes can trigger migraines.
Poor diet and specific foods have also been associated with migraine headaches. Irregular eating patterns, dehydration, excessive alcohol consumption and dieting can lead to migraine attacks. Migraine sufferers have also linked drinking caffeine and eating chocolate, cheese and citrus fruits to their attacks. Pharmacological factors from prescribed medicines such as sleeping pills, contraceptives and hormone replacement therapy can trigger migraine headaches.