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Common Causes and Triggers of Chronic Migraine

A migraine is an extremely painful form of a headache, which is often debilitating. People with migraines require prescription medication or, sometimes, treatment to cope with the symptoms. In many cases, a simple OTC (over-the-counter) medication is not effective in migraine treatment.

Migraines are of two major types – episodic migraines and chronic migraines – based on how painful they are and how frequently they occur.

Episodic migraines tend to linger for hours and can last for several weeks. There could be several weeks between one episodic migraine and another. In contrast, chronic migraines tend to last longer and occur more frequently compared to episodic.

According to a study of the AMPP (American Migraine Prevalence and Prevention), episodic migraines affect over 17% of women and 5.6 percent of men in America.

Causes of Chronic Migraines

A significant share of America’s population is suffering from migraines but doctors and researchers have failed to understand migraines. Although potential causes of migraines have been identified, definitive causes are yet to be discovered. Some theories based on potential causes of migraines primarily include:

Central nervous system (CNS) disorder
Chronic migraines could be triggered by CNS disorder.

Chemical imbalances
For your brain to function properly, all chemicals inside it should be evenly matched, including guaranteed clear nerve pathways. In case any of these chemicals and nerve pathways is interrupted, you most likely have a migraine headache.

Genetic factors
Migraines also occur on genetic grounds. If anyone in your immediate family (such as a parent or sibling) has been having migraines, then your chances of also getting migraines increase.

Vascular irregularities
Any problems with the size, shape, or blood flow inside or in vessels to your brain can lead to a migraine. Sometimes, a chronic migraine may also cause symptoms of one or more other serious conditions.

The following conditions could also cause chronic migraines:

  • A traumatic brain injury
  • Too low or too high intracranial pressure
  • Any infection like meningitis
  • Any problem with inside the brain or blood vessels
  • Stroke
  • A brain tumor

If you have recently been diagnosed with chronic migraines, your doctor will likely run multiple tests to rule out the underlying condition.

Chronic Migraine Triggers

Anxiety and stress
People with migraines often find that painful headaches flare up when they have stress and anxiety.

Bad posture
The way you sit also affects your health. For example, sitting in a poor posture may cause reduced blood flow through your neck, which can trigger a migraine headache.

Caffeine use and abuse
Caffeine turns out to be a stimulant that can trigger a migraine episode in some people. Drinks that contain high sugar and soda act as migraine triggers.

Certain food and drink
Spicy, salty, aged foods (meats and cheeses), and artificial sweeteners can trigger migraines. MSG or Monosodium glutamate is a widely-used food preservative, which has properties that can trigger migraine headaches.

Both episodic and chronic migraines affect women more than men. It could be because women experience frequent hormonal changes (on account of menstruation).

Sensory stimulation
People with migraines are highly sensitive to loud music, bright lights, and strong odors. These are highly likely to trigger a migraine episode.

Sleep issues
A migraine episode may also be triggered when you don’t get enough routine sleep or getting too much sleep.


A small share of the people with episodic migraines eventually develops chronic migraines. Chronic migraines affect only 1.3% of women and 0.5% of men in America. It is advisable to always keep your medication handy and look for a quiet and dark place to relax when a migraine episode is likely to occur.

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