If you can imagine that having a migraine headache is like having someone shoot you in the head, than it is not hard to picture that whatever sets off that gun is a ‘trigger.’
It is important to identify migraine triggers, so that if you know what they are, they can be minimized or avoided; or at the very least, you can plan for them accordingly.
Not every trigger sets off a headache in everyone, but it is important to find out which ones affect you. Some people find that it is useful to keep a headache diary for a few months and track what days they have a headache with some of the common triggers that we will discuss below.
Common triggers include:
A dramatic increase or decrease in psychologic or physical stress can lead to migraine headaches. Sources of stress may include relations within your family; work; finances; or where you live.
Change in sleep pattern
A significant portion of people with migraineurs suffer from insomnia or insufficient sleep. However, getting too much sleep, or even a change in sleep pattern (either from jet lag or from shift work) can also trigger migraines.
Monosodium glutamate (MSG) is a common food additive and flavor enhancer. It is commonly seen in many prepared and Chinese foods. It is a common cause of migraine headaches.
Aspartame, a common low calorie sweetener, has also been shown to trigger migraine headaches in some people.
Dehydration or Hunger
Recent studies show that inadequate fluid intake leads to more migraine headaches. Conversely, when people were asked to drink at least four glasses of water each day, their number of migraines dropped!
Skipping meals or fasting are common triggers for migraine headaches. If you find that skipping a meal causes a headache, keeping a snack with you at work, in the car, or with you may be a great way of preventing that headache.
Bright or flickering lights
Staying in the sun too long, or being in an environment with very bright lights commonly trigger headaches. If this triggers a headache for you, consider wearing a hat or sunglasses before you go.
Loud music, the sounds of construction, or children crying can all set off migraine headaches. Try to avoid these situations or prepare accordingly.
Roughly 50% of people with migraine headaches state that not only can smells set off a migraine, but it can also make the headache much worse. Most commonly, people state that ‘perfume’ in particular is a strong trigger.
Roughly one third of migraine sufferers cite alcohol as a common trigger. Red wine commonly triggers a migraine; interestingly, it appears to affect woman as a trigger more than men. In one study, red wine caused a headache in 22% of women but only 8% of men.
Many people know that when the weather changes, a headache is on the way. Most commonly, changes in barometric pressure, cold winter winds, and thunderstorms all seem to trigger headaches.
Before puberty, both male and female children suffer from headaches equally. However, that changes after puberty – women are three times more likely to have migraine headaches than men. Changes in hormones, especially coinciding with the menstrual cycle,
It can be frustrating when foods trigger a migraine. But if you can avoid the headache, it may be well worth it. Some common food triggers include pickles, beans, bananas, chili peppers, olives, dried fruits, avocados, red plums, citrus fruits, processed meats, bacon, hot dogs, sausages, aged cheese, sour cream, whole milk, chocolate, and vinegar. This list is not exhaustive.