Connect with others who understand.

sign up log in
About MyMigraineTeam

Migraine – Causes and Risk Factors

Updated on February 02, 2020
Article written by
Kelly Crumrin

Researchers who study migraine have not yet determined what causes this debilitating neurological disease. Some scientists theorize that changes to the brainstem – the lowest part of the brain, just above the spinal cord – may lead to the development of migraine. Some studies indicate that people with migraine tend to have abnormal levels of the chemicals (neurotransmitters) that transfer electrical impulses between cells.

Another theory of migraine development relates to the cardiovascular system – the heart and blood vessels. People born with certain congenital heart defects seem more likely to develop migraine. Studies also show a relationship between migraine and increased risk for stroke. Research into the relationship between cardiovascular disease and migraine continues.

Risk Factors for Migraine

It is important to note that while science is good at finding correlations, or apparent relationships, between factors and disease, correlation does not prove that the risk factor causes the disease. Many risk factors for migraine have been identified and are being studied, but none have been pinpointed as the cause of migraine.

Age is a risk factor in migraine. Migraines begin before age 40 in more than 90 percent of people.

Genetic Risk Factors

Migraine is not passed down in a clear pattern between parent and child. However, if you have a relative with migraine, you may be about three times more likely to have migraine than someone with no family history of migraine. Research indicates that inherited factors may account for as much as 40 to 50 percent of the risk for migraine. For this reason, most researchers agree that genetic and environmental factors both contribute to the development of migraine.

Women are three times more likely to develop migraine than men. Women are also more likely to develop chronic migraine – experiencing migraine symptoms at least 15 days in each month – than men. About 85 percent of those with chronic migraine are women. More than half of women with migraine experience spikes in migraine symptoms at certain points in their menstrual cycle when hormones fluctuate. Menstrual migraines may begin during adolescence, peak in the 30s, and taper off after menopause.

Environmental Risk Factors

Most researchers do not believe that genetics alone determine who gets migraine. However, research has not yet identified which environmental factors play a role in determining who develops migraine and who does not.

Scientists have identified several risk factors associated with progress to chronic daily migraine, the most severe and disabling form of the disease. Risk factors that seem to make people more likely to develop chronic daily migraine include:

  • Female sex
  • Obesity (body mass index of 30 or higher)
  • Depression
  • Lower levels of education
  • Overuse of migraine medications, especially those containing caffeine
  • Drinking caffeinated beverages
  • Snoring
  • History of head injury
  • Stressful life events

Studies focused on preventing the progression to chronic daily migraine are ongoing.

Condition Guide

Resources

External resources

Kelly Crumrin is a senior editor at MyHealthTeams and leads the creation of content that educates and empowers people with chronic illnesses. Learn more about her here.

A MyMigraineTeam Member said:

FDA fake data abuse

posted 25 days ago

hug

Recent articles

To determine how you can reduce your medical expenses, MyMigraineTeam sat down with Susan Null...

How To Reduce Medical Bills: Top Financial Expert Shares 10 Tips

To determine how you can reduce your medical expenses, MyMigraineTeam sat down with Susan Null...
Living with migraine can sometimes mean you have to be a bit of a detective to evaluate what...

Lifestyle Changes for Managing Migraine: Q&A With Dr. Starling

Living with migraine can sometimes mean you have to be a bit of a detective to evaluate what...
“Often, people wonder what they did to cause their migraine attack. Stop the guilt! It’s not...

Watch on Demand: Shattering the Stigma Around Migraine With Dr. Starling

“Often, people wonder what they did to cause their migraine attack. Stop the guilt! It’s not...
To sign up for the next live Q&A and watch past Q&A videos, go to (and bookmark)...

MyMigraineTeam Live Events Hub

To sign up for the next live Q&A and watch past Q&A videos, go to (and bookmark)...
Actor and singer Kristin Chenoweth is among the most recent celebrities to publicly announce...

What Kristin Chenoweth’s Migraine Diagnosis Does for the Rest of Us

Actor and singer Kristin Chenoweth is among the most recent celebrities to publicly announce...
Recent migraine research indicates that exercising for more than 150 minutes a month can reduce...

What Are Researchers Uncovering About Migraine?

Recent migraine research indicates that exercising for more than 150 minutes a month can reduce...
Tracking your migraine attacks can help aid diagnosis, identify migraine triggers, and help you...

Keeping a Migraine Diary: How It Can Help

Tracking your migraine attacks can help aid diagnosis, identify migraine triggers, and help you...
Below the surface, living with migraine can mean days spent in pain, missed appointments, and...

Migraines: What People Don't See (Infographic)

Below the surface, living with migraine can mean days spent in pain, missed appointments, and...
Although headaches are often a symptom of migraine, they don’t paint the entire picture of what...

Quiz: Is It a Migraine Attack or a Headache?

Although headaches are often a symptom of migraine, they don’t paint the entire picture of what...
Because the physical impact of migraine can be all-consuming, you may be dealing with...

How Migraine Can Affect Your Mental Health

Because the physical impact of migraine can be all-consuming, you may be dealing with...
MyMigraineTeam My migraines Team

Two Ways to Get Started with MyMigraineTeam

Become a Member

Connect with others who are living with migraines. Get members only access to emotional support, advice, treatment insights, and more.

sign up

Become a Subscriber

Get the latest articles about migraines sent to your inbox.

Not now, thanks

Privacy policy
MyMigraineTeam My migraines Team

Thank you for signing up.

close