More than 37 million Americans suffer from migraines – a debilitating condition involving intense pulsing head pains that can persist for several hours, or several days.
But migraines are more than just severe headaches. They can be accompanied by a myriad of other symptoms such as mood changes, constipation, cravings, visual disturbances, weakness or numbness in the face or body, nausea or vomiting, dizziness, and extreme sensitivity to light, sound, and smell.
Suffice to say, those who experience migraine attacks find their condition interferes with everyday life, work, education, and social activities.
Knowing your own specific migraine triggers and taking steps to actively avoid them is one of the best ways to reduce the frequency and intensity of your migraine attacks.
Some of the top migraine triggers include:
Studies from around the world have cited a link between migraines and alcohol consumption in at least one-third of all sufferers.
Although the majority of people surveyed reported an occasional link between the two, 10% reported a frequent link. Symptoms can come on between 30 minutes and three hours after having a drink.
Red wine seems to be the worst offender, with just 10 ounces shown to provoke migraine in sufferers. Interestingly, the same study found that vodka with an equivalent alcohol content didn’t cause any reaction.
Other research has, however, linked migraines with drinking white wine, spirits, sparkling wine, and beer.
If alcohol if one of your migraine triggers which you need to avoid, don’t despair – there are a great many benefits to giving up alcohol!
2. Food Sensitivities
An allergy or intolerance to certain foods is an often ignored cause of migraines, yet research has proven these headaches can be triggered by several foods, including wheat, dairy, grains, sugar, yeast, corn, citrus, and eggs.
In addition, clinical studies have found that identifying and removing trigger foods from the diet can reduce the severity and/or frequency of migraines, and can even prevent them from occurring.
Monosodium glutamate (MSG) is a flavor enhancer used in a wide range of processed, packaged, and restaurant foods – most notably in Asian cuisine. Research shows it can cause migraines in up to 15% of people.
A study published in the Journal of Headache Pain reveals that a single intake of monosodium glutamate produces headache in the majority of subjects tested.
4. Other Food Additives
Aside from MSG, other flavorings, colorings, and preservatives found in packaged and processed foods are known migraine triggers.
Nitrates – used in meats that have been cured, smoked, pickled, or processed in some way – are another frequent trigger.
Naturally occurring compounds can also cause problems for some. For example, the amino acids tyramine and phenylethylamine found in chocolate, aged cheese, soy, citrus, and vinegar; and the tannins in tea, apple juice, cider, and red wine are also common culprits.
According to the National Headache Foundation, caffeine can either trigger or inhibit headaches and migraines!
At the onset of a headache or migraine, the blood vessels enlarge, causing pain. Caffeine is a known ‘vasoconstrictor’ because it helps the blood vessels to narrow – restricting blood flow, thereby limiting pain.
The reason caffeine can cause head pain is due to withdrawal symptoms. For example, if you generally drink 120 mg a day of caffeine, but miss 60 mg for some reason, it can trigger headache or migraine. The best option is to limit your caffeine consumption, making sure to reduce intake gradually.
Caffeine is naturally found in coffee, tea and chocolate and is added to soft drinks, and over-the-counter and prescription pain relievers.
Headaches are a classic symptom of dehydration so those prone to migraine may find their symptoms of dehydration manifest themselves in this way.
One study, published in the European Journal of Neurology, discovered that the length and intensity of headache episodes decreased after participants increased their water intake.
Thankfully, a lack of water is probably one of the easiest migraine triggers to avoid. Simply start the day with a refreshing glass of lemon water, and continue to sip on water or herbal teas to stay hydrated and keep migraines at bay.
7. Computer Monitors and Screens
Sitting in front of a monitor, or using a smartphone or tablet all day long, puts you at risk of visual fatigue.
The eyestrain and bright lights associated with screen exposure are known to induce headache and migraine. What’s more, the muscle tension in the head, neck and shoulders caused by sitting for long periods of time is another factor worth considering.
While using monitors for work is unavoidable for many, taking regular breaks, being aware of lighting, adjusting monitor color, and maintaining good posture can go a long way toward reducing the risk of triggering migraine.
8. Lack of Sleep
In one study, when women addressed their bad sleep habits, all but one experienced a decline in headache frequency…until most days were headache-free!
Conversely, some sufferers find that getting too much sleep is a trigger, so it seems like sticking to a strict sleeping pattern is best for those with migraines.
Migraine and stress are strongly linked. In particular, many people notice the onset of their symptoms once the stress reduces, hence the term ‘weekend headache’.
According to Dr. Merle Diamond, associate director of the Diamond Headache Clinic in Chicago, stress is a trigger for migraine because it changes the excitability of the brain.
Those who grind their teeth and clench their jaws due to stress can be compounding their risk of migraine or other types of headache.
10. Skipping Meals
One of the most important dietary triggers is missing meals or eating sugary snacks as both these bad habits can upset blood sugar balance.
Eating your meals according to a regular schedule, and snacking on healthy foods like nuts, fruit, and yogurts, can help keep blood sugar levels stable and prevent migraine attacks. Learn more about balancing blood sugar here.
11. Intense Exercise
Regular exercise is important for all-round health, and can actually decrease the incidence and severity of migraines and headaches.
However, intense physical workouts – especially in hot and humid weather or at high altitudes – are more likely to trigger exercise-induced migraines.
Rowing, running, tennis, swimming, football, and weightlifting are associated with migraine attacks whereas more gentle exercises like yoga, Pilates, and walking are safe for most sufferers. Remember to stay hydrated and only exercise during the cooler hours of the day.
12. Magnesium Deficiency
Thanks to poor diets and deficient soil, many people today are low in magnesium. High intakes of coffee, salt, and alcohol, along with high stress levels, further deplete magnesium stores.
A diet filled with magnesium-rich foods is wise for those prone to migraines, as there is strong evidence that magnesium deficiency is much more prevalent in migraine sufferers than in healthy people. Studies also suggest that magnesium supplements may prevent migraines, or at least shorten the duration of an attack.
13. Overweight and Obesity
Obese people may be at higher risk for migraines, with some research showing they are 81% more likely to have episodic migraines than those of normal weight.
In 2011, researchers discovered that 50% of migraine sufferers who underwent bariatric surgery and dropped to normal body weight experienced 50% fewer bouts of migraine. The migraines they suffered were also less severe and disabling than before.
Surgery is a drastic step toward weight loss, and its likely these results would be achieved by losing weight through more traditional methods such as a balanced diet and regular exercise. By changing your habits, you’re also more likely to keep the weight off in the long-term.
14. Bright Lights, Loud Noises, and Strong Smells
Sensory stimuli like bright or flickering lights; loud or persistent noise; strong odors such as perfumes and tobacco smoke; and use of common household chemicals can be potent migraine triggers for some.
It’s difficult to avoid all of these all the time, but it’s likely that these triggers only cause a migraine when experienced in conjunction with other triggers – such as loud music while drinking alcohol, followed by a late night and lack of sleep!
Simple steps like removing chemical products from your home can go a long way toward reducing your exposure to these stimuli.
15. Changing Weather Conditions
When migraine sufferers were surveyed by the National Headache Foundation, it was discovered that three out of every four respondents link their headache pain with the weather!
Specifically, changes in humidity and temperature, storms, and extremely dry or dusty conditions are most problematic.
While you can’t change the weather, keeping an eye on the forecast and being extra cautious concerning your other triggers during these times may be all you need to do to avoid experiencing a migraine. Some sufferers also find relief by staying indoors during these weather changes.
Identifying Migraine Triggers & Home Remedies for Relief
Key to managing and avoiding your triggers is getting to know them. While this article lists the most common triggers, keeping a migraine diary is the only surefire way to find out which are specific to you.
You can also try these 16 lifestyle and home remedies to reduce or avoid the symptoms of migraines