In North America, more than 1 in 10 people have migraine headaches. Most migraine sufferers are women. Migraines usually appear between the ages of 10 and 40. After the age of 50 they tend to disappear, especially among women after menopause.
Migraine is a complex disorder involving the brain and the blood vessels around the brain and head. The brain may become hyperactive in response to certain environmental triggers, such as light or smells, for reasons that are not known. This starts a series of chemical changes that irritate the pain-sensing nerves around the head and cause blood vessels to expand and leak chemicals that further irritate the nerves.
While migraine does seem to run in families, a clear genetic cause has only been established for one rare type of the disease called familial hemiplegic migraine.
Although we don't know the precise causes of migraine, we are aware of potential triggers - habits and circumstances that are associated with the onset of a migraine headache.
The number one trigger is hormonal changes. Two-thirds of women sufferers only get their headaches around the time of their period. Migraines in women are usually worse around puberty and they tend to disappear around menopause.
Another common migraine trigger involves food. The most common culprits are:
- aged cheeses
- alcohol, especially red wine and beer
- fermented, pickled, or marinated foods
- monosodium glutamate (MSG)
Other triggers include:
- changes in barometric pressure
- changes in sleeping patterns