What Causes Migraines?
While every person and every migraine is different, we do know what the common migraine triggers and symptoms are, like weather, food, stress, nausea and sensitivity to light and sounds, the latter actually being both a trigger and a symptom. What doctors and migraine sufferers haven’t been able to quite pinpoint yet is what causes migraines —that is until this year when a group of scientists came out with what they believe to be the answer.
Migraine Cause Study
Scientists have long debated whether migraines are caused by:
- A neurological (brain) problem or
- A vascular (blood) problem relating to circulation.
In their recently published study in Nature Genetics, scientists at the International Headache Genetics Consortium (IHGC) uncovered data that points to blood vessel problems. Specifically, constricting blood vessels in the brain are what cause migraine headaches.
Their study looked at 59,674 migraine sufferers and 316,078 people who don’t experience migraines (the controls), coming from 12 different countries [wow, that is a lot of people in this study]. Each participant took part in previous studies where their DNA or genome was scanned.
Aarno Palotie, leader of the IHGC, and his fellow researchers linked 38 specific genes to migraines—28 that had never been implicated before. These same genes are also linked to other illnesses, all of which fall into the domain of vascular disease. This fact is what made the researchers believe blood vessel problems are the key cause of migraines.
So What Does it Matter?
With doctors and scientists knowing what the main cause of migraines is, they can give more effective medication or other treatment methods to successfully treat migraines and bring better relief to migraine sufferers.
This study’s findings now gives researchers a good starting point to develop new drugs that will target the “regulation of vascular tone” and provide more successful relief for migraine sufferers.
John Zwart, another IHGC member, hopes the group’s genetic findings will be used in future clinical drug trials, where patients are divided into various genetic susceptibility groups to increase the chances of finding the best possible treatment methods for every subgroup.
The IHGC researchers credit their discovery to their large amount of samples and international collaboration, which Palotie says is needed to effectively study the genetics of complex and common diseases, such as migraines.
Like we mentioned earlier, there are many factors that can contribute to migraines, a big one being light sensitivity. If you’re someone who can’t drive on a sunny day without experiencing a pounding headache or have to leave work because of the harsh fluorescent lighting and hours staring at a computer screen, don’t feel defeated.
You (and we) know you can’t stay cooped inside your house on a nice day nor can you stop going into work. But, what you can do to control your amount of exposure to these bright lights and your susceptibility to migraines is to get yourself a pair of specially-tinted glasses. This stylish fix will have you back enjoying radiant life in no time.
FAQ on Migraine Causes
– Answers by Dr. Katz, MD, PhD, of the Moran Eye Institute in Utah
Let us start this post off by saying that migraine causes still remain unknown, however in the online community of migraine sufferers, the following are some frequently asked questions about migraine causes, predispositions to migraines, associated syndromes, and other related topics that our team felt we should address to offer a bit of guidance that might help some people in their struggle with migraines.
Q: How do painkillers cause headaches?
A: Over-the-counter and prescription drugs can result in overuse headaches, also known as “rebound headaches“. Migraine sufferers who use pain relievers, triptans, or opioids more that 2-3 days per week, week after week, and month after month are at risk of rebound headaches. This overuse of medication can result in a vicious cycle of more headaches and the need to take more and more medications.
The only way out of this cycle is to stop the pattern of overuse and prescribe prophylactic therapies – therapies that prevent headaches. Sufferers of rebound migraines should seek help from their physician.
Some of my research as a neuro-opthalmologist at the University of Utah involves prophylactic therapies, specifically wearing therapeutic eyewear to help migraine patients with light sensitivity.
Q: Why do I get headaches after a day out in the sun?
These headaches (like migraine headaches) start in the evening and only go away the next morning after a full night of sleep.
A: There are many ways that exposure to the sun be a migraine cause. These include (1) dehydration, (2) continuous exposure to bright light, and (3) heat.
(1) Dehydration is a common cause of headaches and may explain why you have been getting headaches after a long day in the sun.
(2) A number of individuals suffer from sensitivity to bright light. Umbrellas, hats and sunscreen can be helpful. Some people suffer from a condition known as photophobia, where exposure to light that is ordinarily not uncomfortable can cause migraine. Light in the blue part of the visible spectrum can be particularly uncomfortable to people who are predisposed to migraine. Therapeutic eyewear can help block the frequencies of light that are uncomfortable for these people.
(3) It is well known that the incidence of migraine increases during the warm summer months. If you’re sensitive to headaches after a day in the sun, be sure to take measures to stay cool!
Q: How common are Ocular Migraines and what are signs of them?
A: Ocular migraine is a confusing term. I think what the question is referring to is migraine aura. So, some people with migraines get a visual disturbance that precedes their headache and it’s usually spots and dots, broken glass, zig zags, prisms, different colored lights, and that usually lasts about fifteen or twenty minutes. That goes away and the patients get a headache. Some people will get that visual disturbance without a headache and that’s called a migraine aura without headache. Axon glasses aren’t really specifically made for migraine aura. They’re really made for light sensitivity associated with headache.