Migraines are a complex neurological condition, and their exact causes are not fully understood by science yet. What we do know for sure is that while migraines are highly individualized with triggers and symptoms varying from person to person, they happen in the brain.
Relief can be found in the brain.
Factors Contributing to Migraines
Migraines are a neurological disorder characterized by recurrent, severe headaches often accompanied by other symptoms like nausea, vomiting, and sensitivity to light and sound. While the exact causes are not fully understood, they involve complex neurological and vascular processes in the brain and researchers have identified several factors linked to migraines. It’s important to note that the exact mechanisms underlying migraines are still the subject of ongoing research, and there are variations in the specific processes for each person. A combination of factors is most likely, including:
Genetics and Epigenetics
Migraines often run in families. Some types of migraines are caused by mutations in specific genes. For example, three identified causal genes found in Hemiplegic Migraine are: CACNA1A, ATP1A2, SCN1A. Science found epigenetic changes have also been found in people with migraines.
Research has shown that people who experience migraines may have certain structural or functional abnormalities in the gray and white matter of their brains. These abnormalities can affect the way the brain processes pain signals.
Imbalances in certain neurotransmitters have been linked to migraines. The neurotransmitters found to be involved in migraines include: serotonin, dopamine, and GABA and glutamate. For example, GABA and glutamic acid are the main inhibitory and excitatory neurotransmitters of the central nervous system (CNS). Among other functions they modulate the pain threshold in the CNS, and their turn–over may play a role in migraines.
Different triggers can bring about migraine headaches in individuals. Common triggers include foods, hormonal changes, stress, lack of sleep, bright lights, strong odors, and weather changes.
Migraines are more common in women and hormonal changes are likely the contributing cause. Specifically, estrogen and progesterone levels can cause or worsen a headache. These hormones control menstrual cycles and pregnancy, and they also affect chemicals in the brain that influence pain sensations.
Inflammation in the blood vessels and surrounding tissues of the brain can contribute to the occurrence and severity of headaches. Migraine headaches can also trigger an inflammatory response in the brain, leading to the release of substances that further irritate and sensitize pain receptors. Medications that reduce inflammation may help alleviate migraines.