The Main Causes of Migraines in Females


Migraines are intense, recurring headaches that can be debilitating for those who suffer from them. While migraines can affect both men and women, research shows they impact women at a much higher rate, especially during the childbearing years. In fact, over 90% of migraine sufferers are female. But why is that? What are the main causes of migraines in females? In this blog post, we’ll explore the top causes of migraines in females researchers have identified.

Hormonal Fluctuations

One of the biggest triggers of migraines in women is changes in hormone levels. Fluctuations in estrogen, the main female sex hormone, have been strongly linked to migraine occurrence in women. Times when women experience dips or spikes in estrogen are common migraine triggers, including:

  • Menstruation: Estrogen levels drop dramatically just before and during a woman’s period. Over half of women with migraines report “menstrual migraines” that correlate with their cycle.
  • Pregnancy: Hormones like estrogen surge during pregnancy, especially in the first trimester, which leads to an increased risk of migraines. The risk decreases during the 2nd and 3rd trimesters when hormones level out.
  • Perimenopause and Menopause: As women near menopause, estrogen levels start to fluctuate and eventually decline. These rollercoaster changes often trigger migraines.
  • Oral Contraceptives: Birth control pills contain estrogen and can cause hormone fluctuations that trigger migraines in some women.

Genetics and Family History

After hormones, genetics and family history are the next major cause of migraines in females. Research shows that having a close family member who gets migraines significantly raises a woman’s risk. If one parent has migraines, there’s a 50% chance their daughter will get them too. With two migraine-prone parents, the risk jumps to 75%.

Specific genetic mutations involved in controlling neurotransmitters like serotonin have also been implicated. Thesemutations can run in families and predispose women to migraines.

Food Triggers

Certain foods and drinks can trigger migraines in susceptible women. Some common dietary migraine triggers include:

  • Aged cheeses
  • Processed meats with nitrates
  • Chocolate
  • Alcohol, especially red wine
  • Artificial sweeteners like aspartame
  • Caffeine (too much or withdrawal)
  • MSG

Food sensitivities can develop over time, which is why keeping a food diary can help identify potential triggers. Many women find avoiding problem foods helps reduce migraine frequency and severity.

Stress and Sleep Issues

Physical and emotional stress are commonly reported to trigger migraines and tension headaches in women. Times of high stress cause chemical changes in the brain that can spark migraines. Common stress-related triggers include:

  • High work demands
  • Family responsibilities
  • Financial pressure
  • Major life changes
  • Anxiety and depression

Sleep issues like insomnia, sleep apnea and restless leg syndrome also frequently contribute to migraines in women. Lack of sleep and oxygen deprivation caused by conditions like sleep apnea put the brain under stress. Getting quality sleep helps minimize migraines.


Migraines can be frustrating and debilitating for women who experience them frequently. The main causes researchers have identified include hormonal fluctuations, genetics, dietary triggers, high stress, and sleep disturbances. Keeping a migraine diary can help uncover personal triggers. While migraines can’t always be prevented, avoiding triggers and managing stress can help reduce frequency and severity for many sufferers. Consult a doctor for evaluation if migraines are severe or unresponsive to lifestyle changes. With some trial and error, most women can find relief and reduce migraine disruption.

Leave a comment