Migraine trigger identification and management is an integral part of Migraine management that’s too often overlooked. Knowing the most common Migraine triggers is a great start toward identifying and avoiding as many as possible. While not all Migraine triggers are avoidable, some are. If we can identify avoidable triggers, we can actually avoid some Migraine attacks.
Another issue of which everyone with Migraine should be aware is that Migraine triggers can be “stackable” or “cumulative.” This means that some triggers might not bring on a Migraine if we counter just one, but “stack” two or more together, and they bring on a Migraine.
Yet one more point that we all need to keep in mind is that we’re more susceptible to our Migraine triggers when our bodies are stressed — whether that stress comes from emotional stress or the stress that being ill places on our bodies.
Migraine triggers vary from one person to the next. What triggers a Migraine for one person, may not trigger one in another. Here are some of the most common Migraine triggers:
- Changes in weather or barometric pressure. This is a very common trigger and, unfortunately, one that can’t really be avoided. Many people find, however, that Migraine preventive treatment can help reduce their sensitivity to this trigger.
- Hormonal fluctuations. The hormonal fluctuations associated with a woman’s menstrual cycle, pregnancy, and menopause can be very strong triggers. Sometimes, hormone supplementation or oral contraceptives can help, but they can also make Migraines worse or make no difference at all.
- Some foods and beverages. Some of us have Migraine food triggers; some don’t. Since the Migraine can occur up to 48 hours after eating a trigger food, they can be hard to identify. The easiest and most effective way to see if any foods are a Migraine trigger for you is through an elimination diet where you eliminate common food triggers from your diet, then add them back, one at a time.
- Skipped meals or irregular eating schedule. For some people with Migraine, skipping meals or not eating on time can trigger migraines.
- Bright or flickering lights. Bright light; flickering light such as fluorescent lighting, strobe lighting, older computer monitors that have a flicker rate, sun flickering through trees along the road – all of these can be migraine triggers for some of us. Sunglasses can help. Adding a cap or sun visor to block the light that comes in above sunglasses can also help. If fluorescent lighting at work is an issue, your employer is required by law to make “reasonable accommodations” for you.
- Sleep issues. Too much sleep, too little sleep, interrupted sleep, irregular sleep schedules, and otherwise poor quality sleep can all be very strong Migraine triggers. Waking with a migraine is often an indication that a sleep issue is the trigger. It’s recommended that people with get up and go to bed at the same time every day, including weekends and holidays. Even when we think we’re sleeping well, we may not be. If we find ourselves frequently waking with a Migraine, and can’t identify another trigger, speaking with our doctors about a sleep study can be quite helpful.
- Dehydration. Some of us are more susceptible to dehydration than others, and it’s something we often overlook as a potential Migraine trigger. Alcohol and caffeine can be dehydrating, so we need to be careful to consume enough liquids that don’t contain them.
- Fragrances, chemical fumes, odors. Perfumes, room fresheners, fumes from cleaning products, and other odors can trigger Migraines, especially if encountered in a small space. This trigger can cause many problems for people with Migraine. Many have had problems with coworkers wearing fragrance at work. Employers should be willing to enact and enforce an office policy to prevent this problem in the workplace.
- Physical exertion including orgasm. Exercise, sports, orgasm, and other physical exertion can be Migraine triggers. It’s important that Migraine triggered by physical exertion be checked out by a doctor when they first occur to be sure that they are migraine and not a physical issue such as aneurysm. Depending on how frequently you participate in exertional activities, doctors can sometimes prescribe a medication to prevent these migraines, either on days you exert yourself or every day.
- Heat. Hot rooms, hot days, and becoming overheated are very common Migraine triggers.
- Cold. Being outside in very cold weather or in rooms air conditioned to very cool temperatures can trigger a Migraine.
- Temperature fluctuations. Going outside into high heat or low temperatures or in and out of heated or air-conditioned rooms can be a trigger.
- Stress. Stress can be a Migraine trigger. That said, before we chalk up our Migraines to stress, it’s extremely helpful to carefully investigate whether stress itself is the culprit, or if there are things we do or don’t do during stressful times that are our true triggers. These triggers may include: not drinking enough and becoming dehydrated, not sleeping well, missing meals, crying.
Migraine triggers vary so greatly from one person to the next that compiling a list of all possible triggers is virtually impossible. You may have triggers that are not on this list. One of the best ways to identify triggers is to keep a Migraine diary. You can download our free Migraine and Headache Diary Workbook from our article Maintaining Our Migraine And Headache Diary.