Migraine: Symptoms & Causes

by Ishani Bose last updated -

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According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, migraine is a repercussion of underlying neurological irregularities triggered by genetic mutations at work in the brain. More than 10 percent of people worldwide are affected by this condition, out of which it is three times more common in women than in men. For these people, it may be thought of as an intense situation that can drastically transform their quality of life.  So, what are its symptoms and causes? Let’s find out.

What is Migraine?

Migraine is characteristically a moderate to severe emergence of an excruciating headache which may affect one half of the head known as unilateral or both the sides of the head also known as bilateral, according to Dr. Katherine A. Henry and Dr. Anthony P. Bossis’ book, 100 Questions & Answers About Migraine. It is a neurological disorder which occurs repetitively and may dwell for hours or even days.

Usually, this condition is associated only with a throbbing headache however in reality headache is just one of the components of this intricate malady. The cognitive, medical, neurologic, gastrointestinal and autonomic indications that escort the excruciating headache evidently signify the disturbed functioning of the autonomic nervous system and cerebrum to name a few.


Signs and Symptoms of Migraine

Migraine is a neurovascular disorder and is associated with genes that regulate the functioning of the brain cells. The symptoms of such an attack may vary from mild distress to a major emergency which may manifest all the characteristics of the disorder. A migraine attack generally has four possible phases, however, not everyone experiences all of the below mentioned stages.

Pre-headache or ‘Prodromal’ Stage

Two-three days before the onset of the migraine, you are likely to experience the prodromal stage. In this stage, people experience the following symptoms:

  • Drastic changes in mood ranging from depression to excitement
  • Stiffness in the neck
  • Constant food cravings
  • Constipation
  • Recurrent yawning and drowsiness
  • Constant feeling of thirst and urination

Aura Stage

Aura is a focal, neurological experience which normally happens progressively over a period of few minutes prior to the start of the actual migraine pain. It can be defined as the associated warning signs which may be visual, motor or sensory in nature. These warning signs are as below :

  • Achiness and stiffness around shoulders and neck area with tingling sensations
  • Visual disturbances including blind spots, aphasia, zigzag patterns, and flashes of light
  • Speech Problems
  • Disorientation
  • Unconsciousness

Pain/Headache Stage

This stage normally begins with a terrible unilateral or bilateral headache. The throbbing pain may normally worsen with physical activity. It is accompanied by the following symptoms:

  • A feeling of nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Sensitivity towards light and sound

Recovery or ‘Postdromal’ Stage

In this stage, the agonizing pain gradually settles down with the usage of some effective remedy. Once the headache ceases, this stage majorly entails the following symptoms.

  • Fatigue
  • Weakness
  • Exhaustion

Note that these symptoms may differ for each individual including the severity, frequency, and duration of the migraine episode. According to the National Health Service (UK), the migraine attack may hit a person in several ways such as sometimes a person may feel the aura or the associated symptoms of a migraine without any disturbing headache. This condition is also referred to as silent migraine. A number of people experience the migraine attack preceded by the development of aura. This is normally experienced by 30% of the individuals. 

It would be advisable to visit a doctor when the following symptoms associated with migraine continue to occur with no sign of ceasing.

  • The frequent urge of urination.
  • Perspiration
  • Nausea
  • Feeling of sickness
  • Vomiting
  • Hypersensitivity towards the light, also known as photophobia
  • Difficulty in focusing
  • Sensitivity to sound or phonophobia
  • Osmophobia, characterized by the sensitivity towards smells.

Causes of Migraine

Basis the scientific research published in the Journal of Headache and Pain, migraine is believed to be caused by a blend of genetic and environmental factors. A range of psychosomatic conditions such as bipolar disorder, nervousness, and melancholy are also associated with migraine. According to the National Health Service (UK), some of the major causes of this condition have been discussed as under:

Genetic Factors

Migraine may have a tendency to get genetically inherited in families but that does not infer that all the family members would get affected by it. Although the research study published in the Journal of Headache and Pain published by a team of Italian researchers validates some genetic involvement in this health condition, it also states that all patients differ in responding to the administered medications.

Hormonal Changes

A variety of chemical changes in the brain are also believed to be the cause of migraine. Drop in the levels of serotonin hormone which may lead to sudden contraction and dilation of blood vessels in the brain is also understood to be the rationale behind the headaches. Fluctuation in the hormones around the menstrual cycle and menopause may also trigger the migraine attack.


Certain events and factors including medical, environmental, dietary, emotional and physical may also contribute to causing the onset of a migraine attack, says a report published in the Current Pain and Headache Report.  Here are the potential triggers of the condition:

  • Emotional triggers include stress, anxiety, and depression.
  • Physical triggers include fatigue, strain in shoulder or neck, poor posture.
  • Dietary reasons such as alcohol, caffeine, irregular eating habits, and food additives like tyramine, dehydration, and dieting may lead to a sudden fall or rise in the blood sugar levels which may lead to migraine attacks.
  • Environmental triggers include smoking, flashing lights, strong odor, climatic changes, noisy or stuffy atmosphere.
  • Medicinal reasons such as sleeping pills, contraceptive medications or certain hormonal treatments like hormone replacement therapy may also be the reason behind migraine incidents.

Migraine is often thought to be associated with a sinus headache. There may be a relation between the two as the constitution entailed in the migraine pain is positioned right at the rear of sinuses. A medical professional may definitely help you distinguish between the two, post required examinations. With home and herbal remedies and over-the-counter analgesics, this painful ailment can be cured.

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About the Author

An alumnus of St. Xavier’s College, Mumbai, Ishani Bose has worked as a reporter/features writer for several leading newspapers and organizations in India. It was her love for food, health, and wellness that brought her to Organic Facts. As a Content & Culinary Outreach Specialist, she is responsible for developing and managing the website’s recipe section. An avid Instagrammer who knows the latest social media trends, Ishani helps strategize and create authentic content for the website’s social media platforms. When not writing or cooking, you’ll find her reading, traveling, soaking herself in music, arts, and culture in every way possible. Ishani is currently pursuing an online program on “Introduction to Food and Health” by Stanford University, US. 

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