What’s causing your migraines?

Root out these common causes of pain.

Portrait of Tammy Strobel

Root out these common causes of pain.

<b>PHOTOS</b> 123RF.COM
<b>PHOTOS</b> 123RF.COM

Like headaches, but more acute, migraines induce the same head-throbbing pain, but also come along with nausea, sensitivity to light and sound as well as dizziness. Frequent occurrences could point to sinister underlying problems such as tumours, stroke, infections and inflammation – and you should seek out a doctor if symptoms are prolonged and worrisome – but note that migraines could also be caused by these everyday factors which are easier to control. 


Statistics from the National Headache Foundation in Chicago reveal that women are three times more likely to have headaches than men. Experts largely attribute this to migraines caused by hormonal fluctuations – dips in oestrogen levels – which tend to occur before and after periods, as well as during pregnancy and menopause. 

Your weight

Too much is not good, and neither is too little, reveals a recent piece published online in Neurology, a journal by the American Academy of Neurology. Citing the findings of 12 studies, in which almost 290,000 people participated, researchers shared that obese folks were 27 per cent more likely to suffer from migraines compared to those of normal weight, and those who were underweight tended to be 13 per cent more prone to head-throbbing pain as well. 

Light and loud sounds

Rave parties are just about the worst place to be if your head is spinning. Though scientists haven’t figured out the cause, it seems 85 per cent of migraine sufferers appeared to also have photophobia or sensitivity to light. Loud sounds could make things worse, too. In another US-based study, migraine patients reported increased discomfort and pain when exposed to noise. 


If you’re hypersensitive to scents and odours, someone’s perfume, a whiff of fried foods or cigarette smoke could spark off activity in several spots in your brain, including regions that process pain. Interestingly, your sense of smell might get keener when you’re having a headache, which probably doesn’t help matters in this case. 

Your diet

Foods high in nitrite, like hams, sausages, and bacon, along with nosh laced with monosodium glutamate (MSG), such as chips, sauces, and canned foods, are common causes of migraine attacks. Items with the artificial sweetener aspartame or that contain tyramine (found in cheese) also seem to contribute to the problem. As these aren’t particularly healthy for you anyway, it might be a good idea to cut them out. 

Skipping caffeine

Your daily cuppa is a double-edged sword. It might make you more mentally alert, but missing your dose could induce headaches. Using ultrasound to track blood flow and brain activity, researchers in the US found that quitting caffeine caused more blood to flow through the brain, a common trigger of headaches. Caffeine-induced migraines shouldn’t be a problem if you’re just having one or two cups of joe a day, but any more and you might have cause for worry.