Risk Factors For Migraine

What Are the Causes and Risk Factors For Migraine Headaches?

The following are risk factors for migraine headaches:

  • Being female1
  • Hormonal changes (birth control, menstrual cycle fluctuation)2
  • Hormone replacement therapy2
  • Being underweight or being overweight3
  • Foods (aged cheeses, salty food)4
  • Food additives (aspartame, MSG)4
  • Alcohol5
  • Caffeine1
  • Medications (oral contraceptives, vasodilators can aggravate migraines)1
  • Sensory stimuli (bright lights, loud sounds, strong odors)4
  • Stress1
  • Physical exertion4
  • Environmental changes (barometric pressure)4
  • Sleep-Wake pattern (too little or too much sleep, jet lag)4
  • Family history of migraine headaches6
  • Genetics7

Genetic vs. Environmental Causes

Migraine is caused by a combination of multiple genes and the environment. It is estimated that for women, approximately 48% of the risk is due to genetic factors while the remaining 52% is due to lifestyle and environmental factors. For men, approximately 38% of the risk is due to genetic factors while the remaining 62% is thought to be due to lifestyle and environmental factors8.


Migraine Heritability – Women


Migraine Heritability – Men


Page References

1. Carod-Artal, F. J. (2014). Tackling chronic migraine: current perspectives. Journal of Pain Research, 7, 185–194.
2. Misakian, A.L.et al (2003). Postmenopausal hormone therapy and migraine headache. J Wom Health. 12(10): 1027-1036.
3. Ford, E.S. et al (2008). Body mass index and headaches: Findings from a national sample of US adults. Cephalalgia. 28 (12): 1270-1276.
4. Schulte, L. H., Jürgens, T. P., & May, A. (2015). Photo-, osmo- and phonophobia in the premonitory phase of migraine: mistaking symptoms for triggers? The Journal of Headache and Pain, 16, 14.
5. Dueland, A.N. (2015). Headache and Alcohol. Headache. 2015 Jul-Aug;55(7):1045-9.
6. Stewart, W.F. et al (2006). Familial risk of migraine: Variation by proband age at onset and headache severity. Neurology. 66(3): 344-348.
7. Anttila V., et al. (2013). Genome-wide meta-analysis identifies new susceptibility loci for migraine. Nat. Genet. 45(8):912-919.
8. Svensson, D.A. et al (2003). Shared rearing environment in migraine: Results from twins reared apart and twins reared together. Headache. 43(3):235-244.