What causes a migraine headache?
It might surprise you to learn that, while scientists do have theories about what causes migraines, the reason some people suffer from them while others don’t isn’t fully understood yet. (i)
Fortunately, we have more clarity when it comes to migraine triggers –although these will vary from person to person. If you suffer from migraines and want to identify which triggers tend to bring them on, it may be helpful to keep a migraine diary. Take note of any common migraine triggers that occur before an attack, and then keep an eye out to see which triggers reoccur throughout your diary history.
What triggers a migraine?
So, what exactly might bring on a migraine? Here are 10 common migraine triggers to look out for: (ii)
- Emotional stress
- Physical stress
- Sleep changes
- Your diet
- Emotional changes (iii)
- Hormonal changes
- Your environment (effects on the senses)
- Changes in the weather
1. Emotional stress
Emotional stress is a common trigger for almost 70% of people who suffer with migraine. (ii) The bad news is that stress is pretty much ubiquitous in our busy, ‘always on’ world – but the good news is that there are as many ways to fight stress as there are causes of it. Meditation can help with stress reduction (iv) and – good news for book lovers – reading has been found to reduce stress by up to 68% (that’s more than two thirds!) and to work better and faster than other relaxation techniques, such as listening to music. (v)
2. Physical stress
Although the reason is unclear, many kinds of physical stress can trigger a migraine, including but not limited to intense exercise such as weight lifting or running. (vi)
About one third of people who suffer from migraines cite dehydration as a trigger, so make sure you get those eight glasses a day. It’s also important to remember that staying adequately hydrated isn’t just about keeping your fluids topped up, but also limiting the consumption of things that can actively dehydrate you (diuretics). (ii)
4. Sleep changes
You’ve probably guessed that poor - quality sleep or getting less sleep than normal can prompt a migraine – but would you be surprised to know that getting more sleep than you’re used to can trigger a migraine, too? Click here to discover more surprising migraine triggers.
5. Your diet
There are quite a few foods you might want to limit or steer clear of if you’re prone to migraines. The most common ones being foods that contain tyramine (like cured meats and certain cheeses) and food additives like aspartame and MSG (monosodium glutamate).(ii)
6. Emotional changes
You might think that only negative emotions can trigger a migraine, but unfortunately, this isn’t the case. Excitement – as well as other extremes of emotion like anxiety or depression – can also trigger an attack.(iii)
7. Hormonal changes
In women, hormonal changes – such as those that occur naturally as a result of pregnancy, menopause or the menstrual cycle –can trigger migraines. ‘Artificial’ hormonal changes (those brought on by the contraceptive pill or hormone replacement therapy, for example), can also trigger migraines.(iii)
8. Your environment
Bright lights, loud noises and strong smells all have the potential to trigger migraines. So do changes in climate – for example, changes in temperature or humidity.(ii)
As previously mentioned, the contraceptive pill and HRT (hormone replacement therapy) can trigger migraines in some women. In all genders, some types of sleeping pills can also bring on a migraine.(iii)
10. Changes in the weather
Can changes in the weather really trigger a migraine? The short answer: it’s complicated. Click here to read more about how weather changes may affect a migraine sufferer.