Migraine Triggers (33 You Need To Avoid)

Learn Your Triggers And Reduce Your Attacks

In This Article (Click To Jump Down) –

By Definition –

A Migraine trigger is anything that has been known to frequently preempt a migraine. These can range from different foods to changes in sleeping patterns and are worth knowing, if you want to reduce the number of painful migraines you suffer.

What Are Migraine Triggers?

A Migraine can be considered to be a severe headache, typically lasting from 4 to 8 hours, although some can last longer.

They are typically characterized by intense, often throbbing, head pain, typically localized on one side of your head, that gets worse if you try to move. You are also likely to experience nausea, visual disturbances and light sensitivity, among a whole host of symptoms.

What’s more, migraines can be a very regular occurance if left unchecked. As a 2010 All-party parliamentary group noted, more than 75% of people suffering a migraine experieinced at least one attack every month. 

Migraine triggers are important because, while there is no definitive cause of migraines (or indeed any instant cure), we know certain things cause more attacks and increase the severity of these attacks. 

Which migraine triggers affect you and how badly these affect you is largely a personal thing. What causes one person to suffer crippling migraines every time they experience it for example, may have little of no impact on you.

However, learning the potential triggers below and keeping a good diary to see which one affect you the most, you can soon reduce both the frequency and the severity of your migraines.

About Us

Migraine Triggers (33 Of Them)

What triggers a migraine will be very personal to you as everybody has slightly different triggers. The best way of identifying exactly what your migraine triggers is to keep a diary every time you feel something changing in your body.

You’ll soon learn to recognize the migraine triggers personal to you. There are however a number of key factors that seem inexplicably linked with triggering a migraine. These include –

1) Stress

Stress or anxiety of any form is perhaps one of the most likely triggers for a migraine. This doesn’t necessarily mean when you feel stressed you’ll suffer with a migraine – some people have reported actually getting their migraine AFTER they’ve been stressed, just as they start to relax again.

2) ‘Weekend Headaches’

It is very common for migraine sufferers to experience many more migraines on the weekend. It is unclear exactly why this occurs, but it is thought to be down to a change in your normal routine. For example, your sleep patterns will change, you may consume less caffeine than normal and you are more likely to change your eating/ drinking/ activity patterns. Then there is also the fact that you could be coming off a stressful week and as you relax, it can trigger a migraine too.

3) Flickering Lights.

These include ones such as at a disco or on some television programmes, especially if you have the surrounding lights off like at the cinema.
Sitting Comfortably. Your neck is central to the likelihood of you triggering a migraine. Sitting hunched over a computer all day or slouched in the sofa of an evening are both likely to lead to a minor neck strain, which in turn could trigger a migraine.

4) Sleep

Much like food, balance is everything. Too much sleep, too little sleep or sleep at the wrong times can all cause an imbalance in your body and ultimately that dreaded migraine. Even sleeping in on a Sunday morning is rarely a good idea – if you suffer with migraines.

5) Coughing

If you have a cold or other reason for coughing repeatedly then be careful because the pressure of coughing has been known to trigger many a migraine.

6) Smoking

Apart from the obvious health risks, smoking yourself or even being in the presence of smokers is likely to cause coughing which as discussed in point 10, can easily trigger a migraine.

7) Stuffy Atmosphere

Low in oxygen, stuffy atmospheres can easily alter the delicate balance of your brain and trigger a migraine.

8) Head Injuries

Head injuries can either mean the start of migraines in people that didn’t suffer previously or a major trigger in anyone that already suffers from them.

9) Sudden Changes In Climate, Such As Temperatures

Again, this is a regular feature that you need to look out if you suffer with migraines.

10) Additives

Aspartame (used as a sweetener in diet fizzy drinks etc) and nitrates are particularly potent chemicals found in food and drinks that can trigger migraines.

11) Dehydration

Even on a low scale, dehydration can be a major trigger factor – so make sure you drink your required level of water every day.

12) Teeth Grinding

This is normally an unconscious activity carried out in your sleep. However, it can lead to both head pain in the morning and migraines. If this is you, then you need to see your dentist and get a special mouth plate that can prevent this and save you from triggering a migraine.

13) Blood Sugar Levels

If you are diabetic or are overweight then you are particularly likely to have spiralling blood sugar levels – both up and down around meal times. This imbalance and sudden change is another significant trigger factor for migraines.

14) Your Menstrual Cycle

It has been suggested that this is due to changes is oestrogen hormones around the time of your period. This type of migraine known unofficially as a ‘pure menstrual migraine’ will occur between 2 days before and 3 days after your period.

However, many women also experience migraines at other times as well, with menstruation being just one of the triggers, with these migraines being known then as ‘menstrual-related migraines’ because the sufferer gets other types of triggered migraine too.

15) HRT

Often used to relieve symptoms from the menopause this may actually bring on migraines as it changes your hormonal balance again.

16) The Contraceptive Pill

Again, this can trigger migraines because of the hormonal changes it designed to cause.

17) Exercise

If you can start slowly and build up over months and years of exercise, without ever over-stretching yourself, then it is a real positive as your body will grow naturally stronger and less likely to suffer a migraine.

However, if you are not fit and go on a strenuous workout then the shock to your body is likely to cause a migraine.

18) Drugs

Any addictive substance be it cannabis or prescription painkillers, is likely to have a ‘withdrawal effect’ when you stop taking it. On a short course of prescription medication for example, this may not seem significant, but the change to your body as the chemicals depart for good, may be enough to trigger a migraine (even if the long-term benefits may still be worth one bad migraine).

19) Shock/ Surprise

The kind that hits you out of the blue on a wet Tuesday afternoon – a loved one being hit by a car, winning the lottery or a pet passing away. All of these carry a substantial emotional response and the emotional rollercoaster could lead to a migraine. There is little that can be done, other than be ready to treat early and reduce the symptoms.

20) Loud Noises

It would seem obvious but is often forgotten about in literature on migraines. Loud noises just as they cause headaches, they create muscle tension around the head/ neck which leads to migraines as well.

21) Medications

Oral contraceptives will cause hormonal imbalance and may trigger a migraine as will vasodilators.

22) Perfumes

Or indeed most strong smells such as nail varnish or paint thinner (and Gucci) could all aggravate your sensory system and trigger a migraine.

Foods That Can Trigger Migraines

While foods can have different impacts on different people, there are certain ones that are very clearly linked to an increase in migraines.  Keeping a good record of your meals and times of migraine will greatly help identify which trigger foods affect you.

23) Red Wine/ Cheese

As the author of numerous health-related articles, I can almost hear you sighing ‘not alcohol again’ as it seems to be on almost every ‘don’t do’ list there is from joint pain to gout to arthritis.

Sadly, both red wine and cheese because they contain ‘tyramine’ (a version of a stress hormone). It is mostly found in red wine and soft cheeses such as brie or camembert that need to be avoided.

With cheeses, the general rule is the older the cheese, the higher the tyramine content.

24) Caffeine

Consuming high levels of caffeine will leave you at risk of severe migraines. This could be caffeine from coffee, tea or soft drinks (and that includes Green Tea).

However, conversely so will suddenly reducing your intake. In what could be described as ‘withdrawal symptoms’, suddenly changing your caffeine intake has been proven to trigger migraines as well.

25) Chocolate

There has been some debate about chocolate being on the list because many people crave it just before a migraine, but actually there is no difference whether the person does or does not consume the chocolate – so it would not be considered a trigger. It is more likely the bodies’ response to needing sugar that causes the desire for chocolate.

26) Nitrates

Processed meats such as bacon, ham, salami or tinned hotdogs contain high levels of nitrates that have clear links to nitrates.

These chemicals actually dilate arteries to the brain and heart, ensuing your body is frustratingly ‘migraine ready’.

27) Cold Foods/ Drinks

Ever had that ‘cold rush’ because you’ve drunk an iced ‘slushy’ drink too fast? Well, it’s the same principle here. Drink a cold beverage or ice cream too fast and the extreme temperature ion your body will cause head pain that could soon become a migraine.

The solution here at least, does not involve cutting out frozen food/ drinks from your diet – just consuming them deliberately slowly so your bodies’ temperature won’t be dramatically affected.

28) MSG (Or MonoSodium Glutamate)

This is most commonly food in oriental foods, especially chinese. This particular chemical has been found to be heavily associated with stomach cramps and migraines.

29) Other Alcohol

Red Wine, as listed above, is the number causative factor for migraines, because of the tyramine, but all alcohol also contains sulfites as a preservative. Alcohol is also known to dehydrate people which is another major cause of migraines.

Alcohol is also known as a major cause of a cousin to the migraine – the cluster headache.

30) Some Breads

Yeast contains a chemical known as ‘coumarin’ and this is known to trigger migraines. The key here is to avoid breads that are LESS than 24 hours old or are not yet fully risen as these will have a higher yeast concentration.

31) Gluten

Many people can be mildly intolerant of gluten, but have not actually realised it yet. Maybe you’ve had a few days of poor digestion but not really thought about it’s cause? Maybe you often suffer a migraine not long after the indigestion?

In which case, it may be gluten that is causing inflammation in your central nervous system that ultimately creates your next migraine.

32) Fruits

Many fruits are of course really good for you, but a few contain high levels of tyramine or tannins that need to be looked out for if you suffer with migraines.

Tyramine in particular (we covered it above) you need to look out for. Most often you’ll find it in OVERRIPE bananas and advocados. So you can still eat them just not once they start to get too ripe.

Tannins area also big contributors to migraines. They are typically found in pears, citrus fruits, blackberries, raspberries, red-skinned apples and cider.

33) Missing Food

On the flip side, don’t miss a meal for any reason. The disruption to your body of missing a meal for whatever reason, has been proven to be a major trigger for migraines.

The Final Word –

It is really important to know what your migraine triggers are. The best way of doing this is to keep a diary and note in the front the list as provided above. 

Try to avoid the triggers, but when you do come in to contact with one (whether it be because you are stressed or have a drink socially), not it down and see what happens over the next few days.

Soon you will be able to recognize your own migraine triggers – those that specifically affect you and then make some assessment as to how badly each one affects you.

If, for example, 90% of the time you eat older cheese, you suffer a migraine within 3 days, then you might decide it’s not worth eating. 

Similarly, if stress affects the severity of your migraines really badly, then you may decide to avoid going to large events where you may not be in control, or changing your job, depending on what is causing that level of stress.

Only by recognizing what is causing your migraines and what is making them worse can you realistically fight back and make reasoned, rational decisions and what to do and what to avoid.

Frequently Asked Questions

The simple answer is whenever your migraine starts to be accompanied by other, unusual symptoms such as fever, stiff neck or confusion. 

At this point a referral to a neurologist may be required just to check that there is nothing more sinister developing.

Unfortunately, there really isn’t a set time frame for migraines. To a large extent, their duration will vary based on personal circumstance and what has triggered it in the first place. 

A few hours is common, but up to a couple of days is quite possible. The same is true for their frequency – some people suffer with them every few days, others may only get a couple every year. 

Thankfully, avoiding your triggers as above is one of the things you can do to put back your migraines and reduce their length when they do hit.

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References –

1. Headache Disorders – not respected, not resourced. All-Party Parliamentary Group on Primary Headache Disorders. 2010.

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