Migraine triggers

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Migraine Triggers

What triggers a migraine?

Certain triggers may increase your risk of a migraine attack. While triggers do not directly cause migraines, they are thought to activate abnormal brain activity in people who are prone to get migraine headaches.1

Tracking your migraine triggers

Migraine triggers vary from person to person, and a single trigger won’t necessarily cause a migraine headache every time you’re exposed to it.1 A combination of migraine triggers may be more likely to bring on a migraine attack.2 And sometimes migraines come on spontaneously — during sleep, for instance.3

It’s a good idea to keep track of the factors that may trigger your migraines. By avoiding your triggers, you may be able to reduce the number of migraine headaches you get.1

Potential migraine triggers1,2,4

Trigger Category Potential Trigger Examples
  • Skipping meals
  • Fasting
  • Specific foods
  • Food preservatives (e.g., nitrates, MSG)
  • Alcohol and red wine
  • Coffee, tea, and cola
  • Artificial sweeteners
  • Excess sugar
  • Changes in sleep patterns
  • Oversleeping
  • Sleeping too little
  • Napping
Hormonal changes
  • Menstrual cycle
  • Weather and temperature changes
  • Barometric pressure changes
  • Bright or glaring lights
  • Flashing lights or screens
Odors and pollution
  • Smoke or smog
  • Chemical odors
  • Perfumes and fragrances
Stress and emotions
  • High or accumulated stress
  • Anxiety, depression, or grief
  • Stress letdown on weekends, vacation, or after ending a stressful project
Physical factors
  • Physical overexertion
  • Exercising in the heat
  • Becoming overtired
  • Eyestrain

Some common migraine food triggers1,2,4

Below is a list of common migraine food triggers. However, food triggers can vary widely, and yours may be different.

  • Aged cheese (and other foods, such as smoked fish, that contain tyramine)
  • Alcohol and red wine
  • Artificial sweeteners
  • Chocolate
  • Citrus fruits
  • Coffee, tea, and cola
  • Monosodium glutamate (MSG)
  • Nitrates in cured and processed meats (hot dogs and lunch meats)
  • Nuts and peanut butter
  • Salty foods
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  1. American Headache Society. Information for Patients. Headache Hygiene — What Is It? 2.Trigger avoidance. Available at: http://www.achenet.org/education/patients/HeadacheHygiene.asp Last accessed July 2011.
  2. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Migraine Fact Sheet. Available at: http://www.womenshealth.gov/publications/our-publications/fact-sheet/migraine.cfm Last accessed July 2011.
  3. American Migraine Foundation. About Migraine: What Is Migraine? Available at: http://www.americanmigrainefoundation.org/whatismigraine.aspx Last accessed July 2011.
  4. American Headache Society. Tools for Healthcare Professionals & Their Patients. Trigger Avoidance Information. Available at: http://www.achenet.org/tools/TriggerAvoidanceInformation.asp Last accessed July 2011.