8 Common Migraine Triggers and How to Deal With Them

If you develop a migraine after a certain event, that event may be a migraine trigger. A migraine trigger is anything that lowers your migraine threshold and makes it easier for you to have a migraine. Your migraine trigger may be different from someone else’s. Once you recognize your triggers, you can manage them to limit your pain days.

Key takeaways:
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    If you take some over-the-counter medications too frequently, you could trigger a migraine.
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    Your body does best when you have steady blood sugar levels throughout the day. Any dramatic drops can trigger a migraine.
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    Some foods have certain chemicals that alter your body in a way that can make you more likely to have a migraine.

This article will help you identify your migraine triggers and offer ways to deal with them.

What is a migraine?

A migraine is a debilitating neurological disease known for its throbbing, intense head pain.

During a migraine attack, people may experience:

  • Sensitivity to noise, sound, and smells
  • Nausea and stomach pain
  • Nasal congestion
  • Neck pain
  • Anxiety, irritability, or depressed mood

A migraine attack can be 4 to 72 hours long before most people go into remission. During remission, people with migraines may still feel foggy and emotional. But, they do not have an intense, throbbing headache.

Migraine triggers & tips to avoid them

Migraine is an individualized disease. Your migraine symptoms, triggers, and pain will be unique. Another aspect that changes from person to person is your migraine threshold. Your migraine threshold is the tipping point where you enter a migraine attack. Somedays, you may have a higher threshold than others.

What causes this change in your migraine threshold? Migraine triggers. A migraine trigger is anything that lowers your migraine threshold. Something that lowers your threshold makes it easier for you to have a migraine.

Triggers can build on themselves. So, you may not experience a migraine with one trigger. But, two triggers can work together to lower your threshold and cause a migraine.

Some triggers are stronger than others. You may notice that one trigger causes a migraine every time you’re exposed to it. Weaker triggers may be harder to recognize. It may take several weak triggers to cause a migraine.

If you get a migraine every time you drink alcohol, then alcohol may be a strong trigger.
If you notice every time you get less than 6 hours of sleep you feel foggy with some pain, which may be a weak trigger.
Or maybe you’re sensitive to bright lights and sunny days. You may develop a migraine if you sleep less than 6 hours and forget your sunglasses at home on a sunny day. These two triggers are working together to lower your migraine threshold.

Emotional changes

When you’re stressed, anxious, or depressed over time, your brain changes. Research indicates these changes leave you at risk for migraines. You can develop migraines for the first time from the stress of daily life. Or, your occasional migraines can become much more painful and frequent from stress.

How to avoid it
You can reduce your stress levels by receiving cognitive behavioral or biofeedback therapy. These types of therapy can help you modify your reactions to stressful situations.

You can also use mindfulness or different stress management techniques.

Changes in sleep

Poor sleep quality or a change in how long you sleep may cause a migraine attack. If you sleep in on the weekend, you may experience a weekend migraine. If you wake up at the same time every day, your body will get used to this rhythm. When you deviate from this rhythm, you may experience an attack.

How to avoid it
You should go to sleep and wake up at the same time every day, even on the weekend. Caffeine may take 10 hours to clear from your system. So, if you plan to sleep at 10 p.m., you should stop drinking caffeine by noon.

Make an appointment with your doctor if you wake up unrested, have a hard time falling asleep, or wake up gasping.

Food and drink

Some foods and drinks are migraine triggers. When you eat these common triggers, your body reacts to produce a migraine. The chemical in the food that causes the migraine is different from one food to the other.

Some common food and drink triggers include:

  • Alcohol
  • Hotdogs
  • Cured meats
  • Soy sauce
  • Caffeine
  • Chocolate

Some food triggers can take days to cause a migraine. Others only cause migraines in large amounts.

How to avoid it
You can avoid these triggers by modifying your diet. For some people, a particular brand of food may cause a strong migraine response. You can try switching to another brand to see if you react less.

Sometimes, you may need to avoid the food altogether.

Medication overuse

There are some medications you should take every day to prevent a migraine, and others you shouldn’t. You could develop migraine if you treat your head pain for more than a day or two weekly with the incorrect medication.

Use the following medications cautiously and only when notifying your doctor:

  • Aspirin
  • Tylenol
  • Excedrin
  • Imitrex

This isn’t a complete list, but they are some common medication triggers.

How to avoid it
You should see your doctor if you’re having a headache or migraine every week. If you aren’t on a medication to prevent or treat the headache, you can wind up over-treating with the wrong medication. Self-treating migraines with over-the-counter meds or misusing prescription medication can make your condition worse.

Your healthcare team can make sure you are on an appropriate treatment plan.

Weather

Certain weather changes can cause a migraine. Higher humidity alongside higher temperatures can trigger a migraine. Bright, sunny days can trigger a migraine through light sensitivity. Some weather apps have a "migraine forecast" that helps track the pressure in the air.

How to avoid it
It can be hard to avoid changes in the weather. You can plan ahead by reducing your other known triggers. Triggers pile up on each other to lower your migraine threshold.

If you know that a change in the weather is coming, make sure that you’re eating, sleeping, and drinking water.

Missing a meal

What and when you eat affects your blood sugar levels. Your body has a level of blood sugar that is ideal. When your body doesn’t have enough glucose, you could develop a migraine. People who fast are prone to migraines.

How to avoid it
You should eat small, regular meals throughout the day. This will limit any spikes in your blood sugar. Large, sporadic meals will cause your blood sugar to spike high and then drop low.

Dehydration

Dehydration is another common migraine trigger. Dehydration happens when you lose water faster than you’re able to drink. You lose water every time you sweat or use the bathroom. Your diet, water intake, medication, and the weather all play a role in dehydration.

How to avoid it
Prevent dehydration by drinking enough water throughout your entire day. You should be drinking 9-13 cups of water every day. You may need more if you’re exercising or if it’s hot and humid outside.

If you’re sweating or using the bathroom more than you usually do, you should drink more water.

Hormones

Fluctuations in your estrogen levels can trigger a migraine. Estrogen is a hormone that affects your reproductive health. Throughout your life, different life events will signal changes in your estrogen levels. Your menstrual cycle, menopause, and pregnancy alter your estrogen levels. These changes leave you vulnerable to an increase in migraine activity.

How to avoid it
You should consult with your healthcare team to establish a plan of care for this type of trigger. They may recommend daily magnesium supplements. Your doctor could recommend oral estrogen supplements to help maintain steady estrogen levels.

Triggers are events that reliably cause migraine by reducing your migraine threshold. When you can recognize a known trigger, you can avoid them and lower your number of pain days.

Have you noticed a pattern in your migraines? What do you think your triggers are? Comment below.


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