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10 Migraine Triggers: What You Should Avoid

  • Dr.Sreelekha Daruvuri Dr. Sreelekha Daruvuri
  • 3 Min Read
  • Fact Checked

Migraine headaches differ from “normal” headaches in the sense that they can be very debilitating. There are different types of migraine headaches – with or without an aura – with similar symptoms and treatments, but the triggers for most individuals can differ. Understanding and identifying triggers are really important for those that suffer from migraines because avoiding these triggers can greatly reduce the severity and frequency of migraine attacks. Individuals that suffer from migraines usually have migraine triggers list, but since that can vary from person to person, knowing all the possible triggers for migraines can help individuals identify them better.

Migraine Triggers List

(1) Stress: This is a huge factor in most medical conditions, and migraines are no exception. Stress can very easily precipitate a migraine attack. Patients that have stress as part of their migraine triggers are also prone to depression and other anxiety disorders. Managing stress with meditation, yoga, biofeedback, relaxation therapy, and acupressure can greatly help.

(2) Sleep disturbances: Insomnia or oversleeping can be a trigger for migraines. Lack of sleep results in the release of certain chemicals in the brain that can initiate a migraines attack. This is one of the reasons migraines are common in those that are jet-lagged.  Maintaining healthy sleep patterns through following tips before bedtime and breathing exercise can help with attaining good sleep.

(3) Hunger: In some individuals, an empty stomach or hunger is a huge trigger for migraines. This could be due to the body reacting to low glucose levels that trigger abnormal signals in the brain. Eating healthy and timely meals can greatly help. 

(4) Dehydration: This is one of the most common causes of migraine attacks or headaches. Dehydration leads to electrolytic disturbances which can lead to headaches. 

(5) Hormonal changes: This trigger is frequently seen associated with women. Hormonal fluctuations during the menstrual cycles or before the cycle begins to precipitate a migraine attack. Sudden withdrawal of hormones could be the actual cause of menstrual migraine.

(6) Caffeine intake and alcohol: Though for some individuals having a cup of coffee can help in managing a migraine headache, others can overdrink the beverage or can also suffer from caffeine withdrawal – all of which are triggers of migraine. Drinking alcohol – especially red wine – also can lead to migraine attacks in a few individuals.

(7) Diet or certain foods: There are certain foods like processed foods high in tyramine like cheese and pickles, and others like MSG and chocolate that can trigger a migraine attack. Identifying these foods that trigger migraine can help prevent the attack.

(8) Light: Bright lights or flickering lights can trigger migraine attacks and in some individuals, nausea and vomiting. For the same reason, exposure to sunlight can also trigger migraine attacks.

(9) Sounds: High-frequency sounds above 400 Hz can trigger migraine attacks but in a few individuals low frequencies can also cause an attack.

(10) Medication overuse: Overuse of OTC pain killers can cause an individual to become resistant to them along with resulting in long-term headaches also called rebound headaches. 

Apart from the triggers mentioned above, there are also physical triggers such as neck/shoulder tension/poor posture and strenuous exercise, and environmental triggers such as stuffy atmosphere, smoky rooms, changes in climate, and changes in humidity.

When to see a doctor for migraine headaches?

If the headache is:
– Too severe or unbearable
– Associated with confusion and disorientation
– Associated with loss of consciousness
– Accompanied with seizures or fits
– Accompanied with weakness in one side of the body 

These could indicate something more serious than just migraine. Getting evaluated with a head CT scan or MRI on the advice of the health professional can help in diagnosing any condition early and prevent complications.

While all types of migraines are usually diagnosed by a physician, and at times can be self-diagnosable, it’s important to understand that headaches can be caused by other abnormalities. If you’ve been suffering from severe and constant headaches, don’t self-diagnose, and consult with a general physician instead. Receiving a proper diagnosis i.e which of the above types of migraines, is important because it rules out any other causes and therefore a treatment plan can be set in place. 

  • Dr.Sreelekha Daruvuri
  • Written by

    Dr. Sreelekha Daruvuri

Dr. Sreelekha Daruvuri, MBBS with 5+ yrs of experience working as a Primary care Physician on MFine. She initially worked with corporate hospitals and then as a resident in JIPMER for 2 years. She believes in a holistic approach to health care. She is also a public speaker, a blog writer and holds an interest in spreading awareness on health through digital media.

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