“The exact cause of migraine is not fully understood, but doctors and healthcare providers do know that many factors can induce a migraine… [I]t’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.”
Migraine Triggers by Dale Kiefer
I have so many friends who suffer from migraine headaches! I have seen it in their eyes and in their lives how migraines are so painfully debilitating. So I decided to do some research into what triggers them.
If YOUR life is continually being pounded and trashed by migraines, hopefully something I have discovered will help you alleviate their frequency and intensity.
Bonus Tip: Keep a Journal to Identify Your Personal Triggers (It’s the Quickest Way To Figure Out Why You Are Getting Migraines)
Keep it Simple When Journaling
Keeping a journal can be easier than you think! It can be as simple as putting a brief note into your phone calendar with the following info:
- What time did your migraine start and when did it end?
- Where is the pain and what type? (eg: Piercing? Throbbing? Etc.)
- Were you sick? Did you have vision disturbances?
- What did you take or do for relief? Did it work?
Take Note of the Differences
It’s really important to record anything different that you did the 6 to 8 hours before your migraine started such as:
- Did you skip or delay a meal?
- What did you eat?
- Did you take medications for something else? Or Vitamins? Any health products?
- How many hours of sleep did you get? Did you sleep well? Fitfully? Not at all?
- Did you exercise? What did you do? How long?
- (For women) Record details of your menstrual cycle.
- Was there a change in the weather? What kind?
- Was there extra stress or conflict at home, work, or in other areas of your life?
It’s recommended that you keep your journal for 2-3 months. By then, you should be able to see some solid patterns in your migraines and what may be triggering them so that you can avoid having them …or at least alleviate their intensity and frequency!
Now for the Top 15 Migraine Triggers I found that could be causing your migraines:
#1: Food Allergies Cause Migraines
According to Dr. James Braly who is an allergy expert in Hollywood, Florida, reactions to food additives cause up to 90 percent of all migraine headaches. In his book Natural Alternatives, Michael T. Murray, ND backs him up and identifies one major food additive culprit: “There is little doubt that food allergy/intolerance is the major cause of migraine headaches … Aspartame is among the most common allergens.”
Yes – aspartame! It’s a popular artificial sweetener used in food and drinks… and a very popular migraine trigger, too. According to Dr. Mary D. Eades’ book, The Doctor’s Complete Guide to Vitamins and Minerals, aspartame triggers migraines in about 10 percent of all migraine patients. And that’s not all. Jean Carper’s Food: Your Miracle Medicine says that because of aspartame, migraine frequency increased in more than 50 percent of migraine patients who participated in a study done at the University of Florida. Even worse, “[The test subjects’] headaches lasted longer and some subjects experienced an increase in ‘unusual symptoms’ during aspartame-inspired headaches, such as dizziness, shakiness and diminished vision.” Learn more in the article, “Aspertame consumption strongly associated with migraines and seizures.”
Monosodium glutamate or “MSG” is a popular food enhancer and – yes, you’ve got it! – also a popular trigger for migraines. It’s an ingredient often found in processed foods, including “healthy” foods such as turkey sausage, veggie burgers, and processed protein powders, so check your labels! For a list of hidden names for MSG, check out this article: Avoid Hidden MSG In The Health Food Aisle.
“MSG is the leading cause of migraine headaches, which result from a blood vessel enlargement and the release of chemicals from nerve fibers that coil around these vessels. During the headache, an artery enlarges outside the skull, but just under the skin (the temple). This is when the warning signs that you’ve consumed MSG ring out, and many people experience flashes of light, blind spots, tingling in the arms and legs, nausea, vomiting, and increased sensitivity to light and sound. The pain becomes so excruciating, it’s almost unbearable. Some migraines are known to last for days. Could that be because the medicine you take contains more?”
“Food Culprits Trigger Migraine Headaches and Depression” by: Susan Laverie
Did you catch that last part? Sounds to me like some medications contain MSG. I had no idea. Sounds like we need to check the ingredients in our medications, too. (Who would have thought?!)
#2: Lack of Sleep Triggers Migraines
Any disturbance in your sleep – insufficient sleep, insomnia, jet lag, a change in your daily schedule, even too much sleep! – can trigger a migraine.
#3: Stress Can Cause Migraines
Migraines can be triggered during or right after a stressful event, or after crying, arguments, or any kind of intense conflict. In some studies I read, stress is listed as a higher migraine trigger than lack of sleep.
#4: Hormonal Changes and Migraines
Particularly estrogen fluctuations in women seem to trigger migraines –before, during or after menstruation, and during pregnancy or menopause, for example. Some hormonal medications may make migraines worse such as hormone replacement therapy and oral contraceptives. However, there are some women who report having experienced less migraines when taking these medications.
#5: Hunger & Dehydration Trigger Migraines
Skipping meals is the number one food-related trigger for migraines. Even delaying your meals – not eating at consistent times throughout the day – can trigger a migraine because this causes your blood sugar to spike up and down.
And increase the amount of water you drink! Many of us don’t drink enough water. We’ve all heard we need to be drinking somewhere around 6 – 8 cups of water a day. So keep hydrated with H2O to help keep migraines away.
#6: Alcohol and Migraines
Alcohol triggers migraines in 1/3 of migraine suffers – red wine in particular for females – according to a 2008 Brazilian study, “Trigger factors in migraine patients.” The study stated, “Interestingly, wine was significantly more common as a trigger in women than men, showing that women are more sensitive to red wine than men. Many reasons may be related to this finding, such as different drinking habits in women compared to men, genetically and/or hormonal mediated susceptibility.”
An article, “Alcohol and Migraine” written in 2016 by Alessandro Panconesi MD for the American Migraine Foundation, pointed out that an earlier study “showed that 300 ml or ten ounces of red wine, but not vodka with an equivalent alcohol content, provoked headache in red wine sensitive migraineurs. Migraineurs not sensitive to wine and non-headache controls did not have headaches triggered. They suggested that red wine contains a migraine-provoking agent that is not alcohol. Some studies in France and Italy report white wine as the major culprit. However, there are reports of also spirits, sparkling wine and beer triggering headache. Wine does not need to be ingested in large quantities to produce headache. In wine sensitive patients the time between drinking red wine and developing headache varied from 30 min to 3 hours. Only one or two glasses at most need be ingested.”
And this is what “Does Alcohol Trigger Migraines?” reviewed by Melinda Ratini, DO, MS on April 03, 2017 says: “Alcohol’s exact role in migraines isn’t fully known. Many things are probably at play. For instance, alcohol byproducts called congeners have been linked to headaches. Dark-colored alcohols like red wine, brandy, and whiskey may contain more of them.”
#7: Caffeine and Migraines
Coffee, tea, soft drinks, and energy drinks can have high levels of caffeine – energy drinks especially. “Too many energy drinks can lead to severe headaches from the caffeine withdrawal symptoms. Changing the amount of caffeine you ingest daily can cause more frequent headaches.” Monitor your caffeine intake because ingesting too much caffeine (as well as caffeine withdrawal) may trigger migraines.
#8: Strong Smells Trigger Migraines
For some people, the odor of perfumes, cleaning products, food, fat, gasoline, paint thinner, secondhand smoke, nail polish, and others can trigger migraines.
#9: Exercise-Induced Migraines
Intense physical exertion such as sexual activity, weight lifting, coughing, sneezing, and even straining while going to the bathroom may provoke migraines.
#10: Weather Changes and Migraines
Did you know weather changes can cause chemicals in your brain to become imbalanced? This can trigger a migraine! Bright sunlight, sun glare, dry air, high humidity, extreme cold or heat, weather that is stormy or windy, and/or just a rise or drop in barometric pressure can be migraine triggers.
#11: Certain Foods Trigger Migraines
Chocolate, sausage, salami, aged cheese, milk, citric fruits, ice cream, nuts, salty foods and processed foods may trigger migraines. (Did they have to list chocolate?!?)
#12: Environmental Migraine Triggers
Pollution; smoke; air conditioning in the car, at home, or work can all be potential migraine triggers.
#13: Medication Overuse and Migraines
Overusing analgesics can increase frequency and intensity of headaches. (Who would have known?!)
What are analgesics?
“Analgesics are medicines that are used to relieve pain (provide analgesia). They are also known as painkillers. Technically, the term analgesic refers to a medication that relieves pain without loss of consciousness…”
To alleviate mild to moderate pain, usually non-narcotic analgesics and Non-Steroidal Anti Inflammatory Drugs or “NSAIDs” are used. Acetaminophen (Paracetamol) is an example of a non-narcotic analgesic. Aspirin (acetylsalicylic acid) and Ibuprofen are examples of NSAIDS.
For extreme pain, narcotic analgesics are used. Examples of narcotic analgesics are Codeine, Oxycodone (OxyContin, Roxicodone), Morphine (Avinza, Kadian, MSIR, MS Contin), Hydrocodone (Zohydro ER), Methadone, Hydromorphone (Dilaudid, Exalgo), and Fentanyl (Actiq, Duragesic).
According to the Mayo Clinic, “Taking over-the-counter or prescription headache medications more than 10 days a month for three months or in high doses may trigger serious medication-overuse headaches.
Medication-overuse headaches occur when medications stop relieving pain and begin to cause headaches. You then use more pain medication, which continues the cycle.”
#14: Bright Lights Trigger Migraines
Bright lights and glare can trigger migraines as well as contrasting patterns (like road stripes) and lights that flicker. Loud sounds can trigger migraines, too.
#15: Medications Can Cause Migraines
Oral contraceptives and vasodilators – medicines that open up your blood vessels (eg: nitroglycerin) – can aggravate migraines.
Voila! This concludes some of the Top 15 Migraine Triggers I discovered. I hope this helps you!
By the way, one last piece of important information to know:
When should you see a doctor for your headache or migraine?
Here are good-to-know guidelines provided by the Mayo Clinic:
“See your doctor if you have headaches that:
- Occur more often than usual
- Are more severe than usual
- Worsen or don’t improve with appropriate use of over-the-counter drugs
- Keep you from working, sleeping or participating in normal activities
- Cause you distress, and you would like to find treatment options that enable you to control them better”
A headache can be a symptom of a serious condition, such as a stroke, meningitis or encephalitis.
Go to a hospital emergency room or call 911 or your local emergency number if you’re experiencing the worst headache of your life, a sudden, severe headache or a headache accompanied by:
- Confusion or trouble understanding speech
- High fever, greater than 102 F to 104 F (39 C to 40 C)
- Numbness, weakness or paralysis on one side of your body
- Stiff neck
- Trouble seeing
- Trouble speaking
- Trouble walking
- Nausea or vomiting (if not clearly related to the flu or a hangover)”
Are there others you know who suffer from migraines? Please share this information with them. Your feedback is welcome.
Need Immediate Relief From Your Migraines?
Denali Medical Center specializes in long term migraine relief through a process called Migraine Resets.
In fact 80% of our patients no longer suffer from migraines after 3 treatments. More severe cases may require additional treatments, however, nearly every patient treated finds significant migraine relief after within the first or second treatment.
What is a Migraine Reset?
A Migraine Reset, also called a sphenopalatine ganglion (SPG) block, is a non-invasive and almost pain-free process where the nerve ganglion is reset using a soft flexible catheter. This dramatically decreases inflamation and pain that is the cause of migraines. It is a short 15 minute in-office process, that requires no needles, no surgery, and has given thousands of our patients their lives back.