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What triggers migraines? 7 triggers to track

February 9, 2024
5 minutes
Personal Health
Chronic conditions

Migraine pain can make it impossible to carry on with your day-to-day activities. In addition to throbbing headache pain, many people who experience migraines also experience nausea and a painfully heightened sensitivity to light and sound. Migraine attacks can last for days.

Thankfully, identifying your migraine triggers can help you enjoy more pain-free days. Here, we'll take a look at how the medical community defines migraines, common migraine triggers, and how you can manage your triggers to reduce the frequency of your migraines.

What are migraines?

A migraine is a severe throbbing or pulsing headache. Often, migraines are only felt on one side of the head. Some people experience a condition known as aura before they begin to feel the headache pain of a migraine. Symptoms of an aura can include tingling in the face, arm, or leg, difficulty speaking normally, visual disturbances like blind spots in the vision, and more. Some people experience an aura without migraine pain--this is known as a silent migraine.

Common migraine triggers

People who experience migraines typically have triggers that can bring on a migraine attack. It's important to understand your triggers so that you're able to lower the number of migraines you experience. Triggers can differ from person to person, and your triggers may change with age.

1. Unhealthy amount of sleep

Many people know that a lack of sleep can cause headache and migraine pain, but a recent study showed that getting too much sleep can do the same. If changes in your sleeping pattern trigger migraines, it's a good idea to go to bed and wake up at the same time each day.

If you struggle to sleep and notice that it affects your day-to-day well-being, it's a good idea to talk to your doctor to learn more about participating in a sleep study. This can provide you and your healthcare provider with valuable insights on how to improve your sleep, as well as reduce the number of days that you experience migraines.

2. Stress

Lowering your stress levels isn't just good for your blood pressure--it can also help to reduce how often you get migraines as well. Stress is a known trigger of migraine pain, especially in kids and young adults.

Taking steps to lower your daily stress benefits your health in many ways. If stress is a migraine trigger for you, it's especially important that you evaluate where your stress is coming from, and create an action plan to move forward.

Some changes you can make to reduce the amount of stress in your life include participating in meditation or yoga, practicing breathing exercises, journaling a few times each week, getting regular exercise, and talking with a licensed therapist if you need support in lowering your stress levels.

3. Dietary influences

Many people who experience migraines notice that their pain is often tied to food triggers. While exact triggers differ from person to person, many people have the same food-related migraine attack triggers.

Common dietary migraine triggers include:

  • Smoked fish
  • Aged cheese
  • Artificial sweeteners
  • Yeast extract
  • Alcohol
  • Cured meats

Many people find that when they have another risk factor for migraine--such as a high stress level--their dietary triggers are more likely to cause an attack. Keeping a food log can help you learn more about what foods trigger migraines for you.

4. Hormones

Many women find that migraines tend to occur at the same time in their menstrual cycle. Changes in estrogen are related to migraine pain. You may find that you experience migraines just before your period, when estrogen drops.

If you notice that your migraines are related to your hormones, it's a good idea to talk with your doctor about medications and lifestyle changes you can make to reduce your migraines. Your doctor may recommend birth control to make changes to your estrogen levels, or may recommend migraine medication.

5. Caffeine

Caffeine is tricky when it comes to migraines, as the compound can both relieve and trigger attacks. When the body is dependent on caffeine, withdrawal from coffee or other caffeine-containing substances can cause the blood vessels to enlarge (normally, caffeine shrinks the blood vessels). A person who is not dependent on caffeine may be able to drink caffeine during a migraine to shrink the blood vessels.

6. Dehydration

Not getting enough water is a migraine trigger for many people. In addition to drinking plenty of water each day, it's also important to pay attention to how much fluid you lose through physical activity. If you're spending a lot of time outdoors, or you're exercising heavily, it's easy to forget that you're losing water through sweat. Drinking plenty of water can help you avoid a dehydration headache after exercise or hot weather.

If you find that you're extremely dehydrated and drinking water isn't helping you feel better, it's a good idea to go to your local emergency room so that you can get IV fluids to rehydrate quickly.

7. Alcohol

About 33% of people who experience migraines find that drinking alcohol can make them more likely to experience an attack. Researchers are unsure of exactly how alcohol is related to migraines. It's possible that the dehydrating effect of alcohol contributes to the development of a migraine after drinking.

If you find that drinking alcohol is a migraine trigger, it's a good idea to give it up in favor of mocktails. If you choose to drink, have a glass of water between each drink, and be sure to get plenty of sleep to avoid a migraine attack in the morning.

Managing migraine triggers

Once you understand your migraine triggers, it can be helpful to keep a journal of your daily migraine symptoms. Every few weeks, look back at your journal to learn more about your triggers.

Migraines can be hard to decipher, and it can be tough to figure out exactly why you're getting migraines so often. Focusing on (and confirming or eliminating) one potential trigger at a time can help you get to the root cause of your pain.

Evidation: Here to support you through every step of your health journey

If you're dealing with migraines, you know how important it is to keep track of your health data so that you can have more pain-free days. At Evidation, we believe in the importance of tracking--and putting health data to good use. We're excited to provide you with personalized insights, guidelines, and articles to help you feel your best, day after day. Download the Evidation app today to get started.

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