What Causes Migraines and How We Offer Relief

Do you constantly get throbbing migraines that impact your day and quality of life? If so, then you’re one of 37 million Americans who experience them. Fortunately, with migraines being so common, there are many ways you can find relief and learn how to better manage them.

One way is by seeing migraine headache specialist Nichelle Renk, MD, of Alpenglow Pain & Wellness located in Anchorage, Alaska. Her expert knowledge of migraines can not only help you find relief, but you also learn what causes your migraines so you can avoid triggers.

In this blog post, we go over what causes migraines and how we can offer relief.

Causes and triggers of migraines

Migraines can have several causes and triggers. Regardless of the cause, a migraine makes changes in your brain stem, interacts with the major pain pathway called the trigeminal nerve, and causes chemical imbalances in your brain.

Serotonin is an important chemical that helps regulate pain, and migraines dramatically lower serotonin levels while increasing the production of neuropeptides that cause headaches.

Migraine triggers vary. Some patients have sleep disorders that induce headaches while others may be under too much stress. Below is a list of some common migraine triggers:

Sleep disorders

Whether it’s sleeping too much or getting too little, they both can have the same result: migraines. If you have a sleep disorder, you may have developed it as a result of your migraines. The American Migraine Foundation states that patients with migraines are 2-8 times more likely to develop sleep disorders, such as insomnia.

On the other hand, poor sleep quality can directly cause migraines, since they’re affected by the same brain chemicals and regions. If your sleeping habits are causing your migraines, Dr. Renk can offer relief with vitamin supplements and proper nutrition, as they both promote better quality sleep.

Diet and nutrition

What you eat not only affects your overall health, but it can also trigger migraines. Certain foods, like processed and high-sodium foods, can induce severe headaches. 

Food additives are another common cause, so it’s best to avoid aspartame and monosodium glutamate (MSG), a common preservative in foods. Wine and cheese, although a delicious pairing, are also known to provoke headaches.

Hormonal changes

Hormonal changes, specifically estrogen, trigger intense migraines in women. Certain times in a woman’s life, like puberty, menstruation, pregnancy, and menopause, are responsible for hormonal changes and estrogen fluctuation. These life stages make women 2-3 times more likely to have migraines over men.


Your environment may play a role in triggering migraines. Some patients get a migraine from bright lights or loud sounds. Even scents, like secondhand smoke, may cause migraines because of the overwhelming smell.

Tips for migraine relief

Knowing what triggers your migraines is the first step to finding relief. During your consultation appointment with Dr. Renk, tell her about your diet, lifestyle, job, medications, and medical history.

If you fast or have poor nutrition, she can put you on a personalized diet and supplement plan to improve your health and wellness and offer relief from chronic migraine headaches.

If sun glare or bright lights trigger your headaches, wearing sunglasses can reduce the intensity and duration, and may even prevent them. Try to avoid strong scents like perfumes and stay away from cigarette smoke.

Alternative medicines also help with migraine relief. Applying peppermint or lavender oil to your wrists or temples may lower your pain awareness, according to WebMD. 

Another simple method is using a cold compress on your neck when a migraine strikes. Cold packs reduce swelling and help promote blood flow, resulting in less pain.

In addition to the methods above, Dr. Renk offers several treatments for migraines, including:

Our team at Alpenglow Pain & Wellness knows how crippling migraine symptoms are, and we make it our mission to find the cause so you can learn to manage them.

Want to learn more about how we offer migraine relief? Give our friendly team a call at 907-313-2976 or visit our website to request an appointment with Dr. Renk today.

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