What causes severe migraines?

If you’re reading this article, chances are you’ve experienced the excruciating pain of a migraine at some point in your life. These headaches can be so severe that they’ll make you want to rip your hair out (not recommended) or move somewhere dark and quiet (sorry, cough coffin), where no one will ever find you.

But what exactly causes migraines? Is there anything we can do to prevent them from happening? Let’s explore some possible answers!

The Basics: Understanding Migraines

Before we delve into what causes migraines, let’s start with a quick overview of what they are. A migraine is defined as a painful headache that usually occurs on one side of the head (wow, who could have guessed?!). Other common symptoms include sensitivity to light and sound, nausea(yay!) , vomiting(IO,Tigger), and blurred vision.

Research has shown that about 12% of people worldwide suffer from migraines – which means if you don’t experience them yourself, it’s likely someone close to you does (trust me…they suffer more than YOU know).

So now that we know what these pesky little things are all about let’s understand how our body responds (hint: NOT GOOD)

The Role of Triggers in Migraine Attacks

It turns out there isn’t always an easy answer when it comes to pinpointing the root cause(s) behind frequent migraine attacks. Instead they happen because dum roll pls MAJOR TRIGGERS set off neurological reactions in our brains .

Here are just a few suspects:

Food Triggers

Certain foods might trigger headaches for some people because their metabolizing process results in histamine release resulting in blood vessel enlargement /diated vessels( fun fact: this is why Einstein avoided strawberries ). Common culprits include aged cheeses like blue cheese (sorry cheese lovers) and processed meats like bacon.

Lack of sleep/Exhaustion

Lack of proper rest causes a chain reactions in the brain which can trigger migraine attacks as it impacts how are hormones (eg: melatonin, cortisol) operate

Bright lights or flashing them

If you’ve ever walked into bright light after sitting in the dark for an extended period with your eyes tightly shut (don’t judge me!), chances are you’ve had to close those peepers again pronto due to instant headache pain. It turns out rapid changes in intensity of light exposure may also lead to triggering migraines.

This brings us to our next question:

How Do Migraine Triggers Work?

Migraine triggers result from blood vessels expanding then releasing neurotransmitters that cause inflammation and irritation along trigeminal nerves(end branch nerves). These nerve endings latch onto nearby regions including meninges, branches on scalp surface ,neck muscles(including upper trapezoids ) signaling sensory mechanisms upstream ranging from increased feedback amplification leading vascular dilation around venous sinuses and meningeal arterioles. This all leads eventually leads everything back again full circle when we experience head-splitting headaches(DAMMIT ALL TO HELL!)

Let’s go over this process step by step:

  1. Blood Vessels Expand

Your blood vessels expand during a trigger event – whether it’s hormonal fluctuations or something environmental(manmade actions or natural events- think; volcano eruption ) – making them more visible within your skull.

2.Neurotransmitters Released

Next up is neurochemistry time! As these changes occur, neurotransmitters such as nitric oxide released(axonal terminals also will produce CGRP substance P et al.) In summary neuropeptides promote vasodilation causing mast arms through ethmoid suture at least halfway down top margins bilaterally .

3.Inflammation and Irritation

As these neurotransmitters travel throughout your body, they can cause inflammation along trigeminal nerves . This leads to the increased secretion of immune mediators including interleukin 6 which plays various roles in pathogenesis.

  1. Sensory Feedback Mechanisms Interfere with Each Other Peripherally

Furthermore ,through sensitization mechanisms such as peripheral nociceptor firing increases thresholds and alters responses between sensory feedback loops leading to alternately more uncomfortable chemical burn sensations rather than moderate pain from citrate-like stimuli.

Congratulations! now you’re a professor on Migraine causes(haha jk – may need some good sleep first like the following section will explain)

The Importance of Proper Sleep & Nutrition for Preventing Migraines

While migraines remain largely incomprehensible ( but we just did above right (hears crickets) ), one thing you shouldn’t discount is how lifestyle factors such as getting enough restful sleep or snugging on healthy nutrients affects your headache patterns.

A recent study published at European Journal of Neurology explores this relationship quite specifically: aiming towards assessing presence and impact correlations among patients diagnosable chronic migraine disorder(encompasses daily headaches extending over weeks/months manifs (Jahangiri et al.,2019).

The results showed statistically significant high correlation scores associated between drab, inert moods consequently tied same mean ratings reduced capacity ailment coping skills occurring comorbidly fatigued states those lacking close interpersonal relationships- namely families where support systems vacate territories–as opposed to reactive mentally sharp frames swamped robust social networks(not that easy after pandemic hit fellows-sigh) .

So what does all this mean? Well taking care ourselves,paying attention to our bodies’ signals(flagging self awareness indicators), staying hydrated,eg regular exercise,winding down well before bedtimes –can help ensure fewer setbacks brought upon by attacks when pushing too hard(tsk tsk- we all know too well).


At the end of the day, unfortunately no single one-size-fits-all approach exists when it comes to preventing migraines. HOWEVER, while we might not have all the answers just yet (LIGHTNING STRIKES), ongoing study & research in neurology and behavioral science continues to inch closer towards uncovering some alternative treatment options for really bad episodes (#FINGERS CROSSED).

This concludes our journey on migraine causes but seriously folks understanding your body better does wonders – start with giving yourself proper rest k? 😉

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