The sudden onset of a migraine means a dark room, bed and a cool towel for most of us.
If you’re one of the millions of people who deal with frequent or occasional migraines, it’s important to understand your personal migraine triggers and do your best to avoid them. Keeping a journal of known triggers—such as certain foods, sounds, or bright lights—may be beneficial in avoiding future migraine attacks.
When you can identify your triggers, you are one step closer to effectively managing your migraine and avoiding future attacks.
It’s generally felt that stress is a migraine trigger for many people, but it’s actually the period of relaxation after stress that counts: The effect of stress on the body increases levels of various chemicals that then break down once we have calmed down. This chemical change would then be what triggers the migraine. This explains why an attack can hit the first day of vacation, or the day after you leave a stressful job, or at the beginning of your honeymoon.
Caffeine and Alcohol
Many people find their migraine symptoms are heightened after consuming caffeine or alcohol. Conversely, other people say that a cup of coffee can stop their migraine symptoms, and some medications designed to fight migraine pain may contain a dose of caffeine. Although migraine patients consider red wine the principal alcoholic trigger, studies show that other types of alcohol are just as likely—and sometimes even more frequently—the culprit.
How to cope: Limit and know your limits when it comes to alcohol consumption. If you are experiencing the warning signs and symptoms of a migraine attack after drinking alcohol, take your acute (as needed) medication immediately.
Changes in your sleep pattern
For people who suffer migraines, it is best to keep things to a normal, dependable routine, and this includes your sleep schedule – sleeping too little or experiencing jet lag can trigger a migraine attack. It is best to try to get up at the same time every day, including Saturdays and Sundays. Sounds harsh, but it’s worth it – not only can it prevent headaches, but it will also improve your sleep. Changing your internal clock just a few hours on the weekend can give your body a sort of fixed jet lag that may cause sleep problems, and other health problems later on.
Changes in the weather
Storms, excessive heat and changes in barometric pressure are common weather-related triggers that can lead to a migraine attack. High humidity and heat can easily lead to dehydration, another common trigger.
How to cope: We can’t control the weather, so if the current conditions are not favorable for your migraine, stay inside or adjust your schedule accordingly. If there’s an errand you need to run and it’s the middle of July in Arizona, take care of it in the morning before it gets too hot!
Although as of yet no definitive research has been conducted on the relationship between migraines and the weather, anecdotally speaking, patients often report having migraines on rainy days. Given that we cannot control the weather, you should take special care to avoid other triggers on rainy days.
Physical exertion can also bring on a headache. Although the exact cause of migraines induced by exercise is not completely understood, it could be a chemical change in the brain, especially in those who are just taking up exercise. The best thing to do in this case is to start off slowly.
Hunger or Dehydration
Migraine patients would do well to avoid skipping meals. Research consistently shows that skipping meals is frequently linked to the onset of migraine. It remains uncertain how this happens. It is probably related to falling blood glucose levels.
Dehydration has also been suggested as a possible migraine trigger. Failure to drink enough water has been linked to the onset of headache. A small survey of migraine sufferers revealed that “insufficient fluid intake” was linked to headache onset in about 40 percent of responders.
Women are three times more likely to have migraine than men, and up to 75% of women find that they experience attacks around the time of their menstrual period. This is called “menstrual migraine,” occurring only during a women’s period due to the change in estrogen and progesterone levels.
How to cope: Besides changes in lifestyle and diet, there are some methods of birth control that can stabilize hormone levels and therefore prevent future migraine attacks. Make sure to meet with a headache specialist and/or your gynecologist so you can find the right treatment plan.
Healthy eatingFood related triggers occur in about 10% of people with migraine. Many people will crave sweet food such as chocolate before the pain of the migraine is experienced which leads them to conclude that eating sweet food is a cause. However, sometimes the craving for particular food is a symptom of the beginning of the migraine.