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Identify Your Triggers 

Getting to know your triggers and learning to manage them can reduce the severity and frequency of migraine attacks and greatly enhance your quality of life. 

One of the best strategies for avoiding migraines is trigger recognition—identifying the lifestyle factors, food choices, and environmental conditions that can lead to an attack, then avoiding your triggers wherever possible. While each person has a unique trigger portfolio there is a common set of triggers shared by most migraine sufferers.   

The most effective tool for identifying and avoiding triggers is keeping a detailed headache diary. 

Self-knowledge in monitoring your headaches and subtle physical cues is the foundation for successful migraine management. Tracking your progress, monitoring and reporting changes in mood, irritability, sleep, anxiety, reactions to food and changing weather provides essential clues that can significantly improve medical decision-making.  Keeping a detailed diary will provide a basis for discussion with your healthcare provider.  Once you see that migraine follows a predictable pattern you will no longer fear a sneak attack and can identify risk factors that make you vulnerable. 

Top 12 Migraine Triggers 

1. Changes in the Weather and Atmospheric Pressure 

Rapid fluctuations in temperature and barometric pressure, high humidity or exposure to extreme heat or cold can trigger a migraine attack. 

2. Light  

Glare, bright sunshine, a flickering TV or computer screen, reflections on water—these light effects that can act as migraine triggers. 

3.  Menstrual Cycles/Fluctuating Hormones

Many women experience migraine attacks immediately before or during their menstrual cycle.  Women using birth control pills or undergoing hormone replacement therapy also report increased incidence of migraine.  

4.  Food and Drink 

Unfortunately some of the most popular and delicious foods and beverages act as migraine triggers.  Many migraine sufferers report adverse reactions to processed meats (sausages, cold-cuts), red wine, port, and beer, dried fish, fermented cheeses, broad beans, chocolate, MSG, and aspartame, an artificial sweetener used in diet yogurt and sodas. 

5.  Odors, Perfumes, Fumes 

It is common for migraineurs to experience extreme sensitivity to odors, pleasing and noxious, including cigarettes, perfume and bath products, and household cleaning agents. 

6. Motion Changes—Travel 

Individuals who suffer from motion sickness may develop migraine symptoms with changes in speed, altitude, or road surface conditions. 

7.  Auditory Shock 

Loud or sudden noises can bring on or aggravate migraine. 

8.  Eating Habits/Dieting – Moderation is the Key 

Fasting, feasting, skipping meals, or embarking on a diet regime can trigger a migraine attack.  Find an eating routine that works for you and stick to it. 

9.  Irregular Sleeping Habits 

Regular sleeping habits help decrease the frequency and intensity of migraine attacks.  Sleep studies show that it is very important for migraine patients to get an appropriate amount of sleep and rest nightly. 

10.  Abuse of Pain Medications 

Rebound headaches can occur when migraine sufferers rely heavily on pain medication to alleviate symptoms.  Optimum migraine management is best achieved using a combination of pain medication and behavioral management techniques. 

11.  Emotional Stress 

It is difficult to measure the effect of emotional stress as a migraine trigger, since each person experiences stress differently.  However it is clear that stress is an aggravating factor, since emotional stress significantly compromises your body’s immune and other natural defense systems.  Stress management is, therefore, highly recommended. 

12.  Intense Physical Exercise/Exertion 

While exercise in moderation can relieve stress, excessive amounts of physical activity can trigger migraine.  Even physical activities such as sex and having a bowel movement can bring on an attack.  Your headache diary will help you identify your risk threshold when engaging in intense physical activity.  

Trigger Tips 

Changing Weather May Trigger Migraines 

There’s little migraine sufferers can do about one of the most common migraine triggers—the ever-changing weather.  50% of migraineurs are sensitive to weather variables and it is most often a change in temperature, humidity, or barometric pressure that triggers an attack.   

While you can’t control the weather, you can keep a headache diary to monitor which types of climactic change trigger migraine then respond proactively by taking medication at the first sign of the headache, before it becomes full-blown.   

Trigger Foods and How to Manage Them 

Once identified, trigger foods CAN be avoided.  Not everyone has food triggers, but your headache diary will help you to identify foods that may act as migraine triggers for you.  You can easily add a checkmark to your trigger list if a migraine ensues each time you eat a particular food.  Another method is to design an elimination diet.  With this strategy you remove all the suspected trigger foods from your diet, then add them back one at a time…one item per week.   A migraine attack can occur up to 48 hours after eating a trigger food.  For this reason keeping an accurate headache diary is the most important tool for self-assessment. 

Managing food triggers can be challenging, especially when going to restaurants or parties.  But most migraineurs find that only a few specific foods act as triggers, and eliminating these from your diet is more than worth the sacrifice if fewer migraines are the result. 

Click here for a list of common trigger foods

Quality Sunglasses—Your First Line of Defense

Dazzling sunshine, in summer or winter, and any kind of reflected light can trigger a migraine.  Most migraine sufferers are somewhat photophobic (sensitive to light) whether they have a headache or not.  During a migraine attack sunglasses are helpful even in normal, indoor conditions. 

Quality sunglasses block both UVA and UVB rays.  Ultra-violet rays have a cumulative effect over time and can cause eye diseases such as cataracts and macular degeneration.

When choosing sunglasses, here’s what to look for:

  • Spend the extra money to purchase good optical grade lenses
  • Ensure that your sunglasses are coated against UVA and UVB rays.  Tinted glasses that do not have this protective coating allow your pupils to dilate, exposing the eyes to more UV rays and their damaging effects.
  • Polarized lenses are preferable as they reduce glare

Drink Plenty of Water

One easily avoidable migraine trigger is dehydration.  Some people think that dehydration occurs only in hot weather, or if you aren’t thirsty, you don’t need to drink.  We are often advised to drink 8 glasses of water per day.  The logic behind this proviso is that it takes, on average, 64-80 ounces of water to replace the fluid our bodies lose in 24 hours.  Migraine sufferers are already vulnerable since they are hyper-sensitive to internal fluctuations in temperature, light, sound, and levels of fatigue.  It makes sense to give yourself the advantage by ensuring that daily water intake is adequate.  Here are some steps you can take to prevent dehydration:

  • Drink plenty of water and choose foods with high fluid content, such as fruits and vegetables
  • Limit caffeine and alcohol consumption, as these accelerate dehydration
  • Avoid excessive intake of fruit juices which can cause a dehydrating bout of diarrhea
  • Sugary sports drinks help maintain hydration and electrolyte levels but should be drunk only occasionally.
  • If you’re planning an outdoor recreational activity, drink extra water the day before to offset excessive fluid loss from perspiration, sun exposure and fatigue.
  • Drink extra fluids when you are ill, particularly when you have a fever, are vomiting or have diarrhea.

Workplace Migraines

If you find that migraine attacks are more frequent at work the problem may a response to traditional office lighting.  Here are some tips to combat this trigger.

Computer Screen Glare

  • Try to reposition your computer monitor so light hits the screen indirectly
  • Attach a glare screen to your monitor or use a monitor hood
  • Turn off the lights over your work area if possible
  • Ask your supervisor to remove fluorescent or incandescent tubes or bulbs from your workspace, if agreeable

Incandescent Light Glare

  • Reposition yourself so you are sitting at a different angle from the glare
  • Make sure incandescent bulbs are covered with frosted fixtures
  • If all else fails, turn off the lights over your work station

Flicker from Fluorescent Lighting

  • Fluorescent lighting has a flicker and this is a common migraine trigger
  • The best solution is to remove fluorescent lighting from your immediate work area or ask you employer to use burned out tubes over your desk.
  • If your work involves reading fine print, fluorescent lighting does not provide adequate light for this task.  Use a desk lamp to illuminate paperwork.
  • Consult your headache diary to see if office lighting is the culprit.