The exact causes of migraine are not well known, however, it is believed that changes in chemicals and nerves in the brain can play a role in the development of the condition.1
During migraine attacks, these imbalances can feel like a “brain cramp,” which can be scary to endure. However, attacks can be triggered by many different things, including:1-3
Some risk factors include:
- Age – migraine often develops in late adolescence and typically most affects those aged 25–55 years old
- Genetics – family history of migraine may increase your risk
- Gender – women are up to three times more likely than men to experience migraine
Physical stress and strain can bring on migraine symptoms in some people. This includes stiffness or tension in the neck and/or shoulders; straining or putting too much pressure on yourself, or demanding exercise, particularly if you’re not used to it.4
Strong emotions such as excitement, anxiety, shock or tension as well as any stress or depression you may feel as a result of these, may lead to a migraine.5
Your sleep habits can impact your migraine; changes in sleep patterns and interrupted sleep can make migraine more frequent. Getting a good night’s rest is really important as too much or too little sleep could trigger migraine attacks.4 You could reduce the impact sleep may have in triggering a migraine by better planning travel, not working unsocial hours, or avoiding sleeping in on the weekend.
Foods and diet
Frustratingly, foods that trigger migraine include some of the things many of us love most, including chocolate, cheese and other dairy products, citrus fruits and seafood.5,6 Also, if you experience migraine you may want to avoid additives, like the sweetener aspartame and the preservative monosodium glutamate (MSG), as these can be triggers.6 Beverages such as caffeine and alcohol are also known migraine triggers.5
It can be tempting not to eat or drink when you have a headache, but be mindful that dehydration and low blood sugar from a lack of food, can both cause migraine.5 So just take care of yourself and try to remember to eat and drink.
Anything that has an effect on your senses – touch, smell, taste, sight, hearing – is a sensory stimulus. Sensory stimuli of many different varieties may trigger a migraine attack; these include:5
- Bright lights
- Loud sounds
- Strong smells
- Flickering lights
As well as sensory stimuli, there are also things in the environment that can trigger a migraine; these can include:5
- Change in weather/climate
- Stuffy or smoky atmospheres
Some medications can act as a migraine trigger; these can include:7
- Some sleeping tablets
- Some contraceptive pills
- Hormone replacement therapy (HRT)
The hormones estrogen and progesterone are significant migraine triggers for women. Some women are more sensitive to the fluctuations of these hormones within the menstrual cycle which in turn may have an impact on migraine.8 As with all medications, it is always a good idea to have a discussion with your doctor about the best ways to manage your migraine, particularly when taking any kind of hormone therapy or contraceptive pill.
Triggers are specific to each person, and it’s not always easy to identify them. Confusingly, the same trigger may not always lead to a migraine and attacks can be caused by a combination of triggers.5
It may be difficult at first to find out what triggers are causing your migraine attacks, especially if there’s more than one trigger involved.5 When you combine busy work and social lives with other contributing factors, such as monthly menstrual periods or changing environments. It can be tough to pinpoint what’s happening but with the right tools in hand, you can track your migraine triggers.
A ‘Migraine Diary’ is one way to discover what possible triggers you might have. You can use the Migraine Buddy app to track things such as the environment around you, your physical and emotional wellbeing and your diet. By recording these, you may be able to spot your migraine triggers,9 which you can talk about with your doctor, friends and family.
Some things you can track with Migraine Buddy include:9
- The date and time of day you experienced an attack
- The type of migraine attack you experienced
- The food and drink consumed that day
- Your sleep patterns
- Any medications you had taken that day
- The weather including pressure changes and nearby thunderstorms
Bring what you’ve recorded in the Migraine Buddy app to appointments with your doctor. Together you can review what you recorded to help identify triggers and make a plan for the best care possible to prevent migraine attacks.
- NHS Choices.Migraine. http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/migraine/Pages/Introduction.aspx [Last Accessed: November 2018]
- The Migraine Trust.Facts and Figures https://www.migrainetrust.org/about-migraine/migraine-what-is-it/facts-figures/ [Last Accessed: November 2018]
- Lipton et al. Migraine: Epidemiology, Impact, and Risk Factors for Progression. Headache 2005; 45: S3-S13
- The Migraine Trust. Common Triggers https://www.migrainetrust.org/about-migraine/trigger-factors/common-triggers/ [Last Accessed: November 2018]
- Migraine Action. Triggers. http://www.migraine.org.uk/information/triggers [Last Accessed: November 2018]
- Migraine. Migraine triggers: food and drinks. https://migraine.com/migraine-triggers/food-and-drinks/ [Last accessed November 2018]
- NHS Choices. Migraine Causes. http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Migraine/Pages/Causes.aspx [Last accessed November 2018]
- The Migraine Trust. Migraine and the contraceptive pill. https://www.migrainetrust.org/living-with-migraine/coping-managing/contraceptive-pill/ [Last Accessed: November 2018]
- The Migraine Trust. Keeping a migraine diary. https://www.migrainetrust.org/living-with-migraine/coping-managing/keeping-a-migraine-diary/ [Last Accessed: November 2018]
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