Migraine and Headache Causes

Stress, Hormones, and Your Environment Can Trigger Headaches

No one can pinpoint exactly what causes migraines and headaches or why some people are more prone to experiencing them than others, but what we do know is that there are many things that can trigger them.

Cluster Headache Causes
Cluster headaches are most likely caused by abnormalities in the region of the brain called the hypothalamus.

What makes these headaches different than other types of headaches is that they work like clockwork: Episodes usually occur at the same time of day and they typically follow the seasons of the year, so they’re very predictable.

Unlike tension headaches and migraines, cluster headaches aren’t usually triggered by something. These headaches are mostly attributed to changes in your brain—not changes in your environment or how you handle stress.

Tension Headache Causes
Tension headaches—one of the most common types of headaches—can happen to anyone.

They’re different from cluster headaches because they’re not associated with irregularities in the brain. However, these types of headaches can occur when the neck and scalp muscles become too tight or tense. In addition, people who have migraines are also more likely to experience moderate or severe tension headaches.

Tension headaches may be caused by a genetic, inherited tendency to experience headaches—that means if you have a family member with tension headaches, you’re more at risk of developing them, too.

Many people who experience chronic tension headaches have an increased sensitivity to pain, which may be caused by misinterpretation of nerve pathways to the brain. Something usually triggers a tension headache.

Tension Headache Triggers

  • A head injury
  • An illness, such as a sinus infection
  • Drinking alcohol
  • Eating foods with too much caffeine or withdrawal symptoms from a lack of caffeine
  • Excessive smoking
  • Frequently clenching your jaw
  • Grinding your teeth
  • Overexertion (caused by intense physical activity, etc.)
  • Poor posture
  • Sitting or standing in an uncomfortable position for too long (eg, working at a desk, sewing)
  • Sleeping with your neck in an abnormal position
  • Straining your eyes (working at a computer, reading something with very small text, etc.)
  • Tiredness

Migraine Causes
Migraines may be caused by both genetics and your environment. For example, if your mom has chronic migraines, you may, too. But if you don’t have a family history of migraines, then they could be caused by a variety of things—from changes in the weather to too much stress and not handling stress effectively.

It’s possible that migraines may also be caused by imbalances in chemicals in your brain. The hormone serotonin helps nerves communicate with each other as well as regulate pain in your body. A lack of serotonin may cause a migraine.

Although researchers are still investigating the exact causes of migraines, they do know that migraines are typically triggered by something, and some people may be more sensitive to these triggers (eg, bright lights, loud noises, strong odors, etc) than others.

Migraine Triggers

  • Alcohol
  • Certain foods, such as aged cheese and foods with aspartame (an artificial sweetener)
  • Changes in your sleeping habits
  • Dehydration
  • Depression
  • Eating foods that contain caffeine (eg, coffee, chocolate)
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Grinding your teeth
  • Hormonal changes and menstruation (in women)
  • Hunger
  • Poor sleeping habits, lack of sleep, or too much sleep
  • Skipping meals
  • Some medications, such as oral contraceptives

Although the exact cause of migraines and headaches is unknown, avoiding the triggers mentioned above is certainly one of the best ways to try to keep migraines and headaches at bay. By avoiding things you know that may set off a migraine or headache, you can actually help to reduce the amount of migraines or headaches you experience.

Updated on: 11/19/15
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Migraines and Headaches Diagnosis