For those who suffer from frequent and debilitating migraines, relief in the form of prescription medication is often a necessity. However, for those who suffer from migraines infrequently, there may be underlying triggers that, once avoided, can stop new attacks altogether. Understanding the different possible triggers behind migraines may help some sufferers from relying on prescription medication. And for those who do rely on such medication, it may help to (at the very least) lessen migraine frequency.
Migraine headaches are caused by a neurological disorder in the brain. Unlike regular tension headaches, they tend to be unilateral, which means that only half the skull is affected. They may also cause the head to feels as if it is pulsating. Other common symptoms include increased sensitivity to light and sound, nausea, and sometimes even vomiting.
While the exact causes of migraines are unknown, there have been numerous studies that point to the possibility of migraine triggers in food, lifestyle choices and the environment. Although some triggers, such as hormonal changes, may not be easily changed or avoided, understanding these triggers can help some people avoid attacks. Here are ten of the most commonly thought of triggers when it comes to migraines.
It goes without saying that stress can lead to migraines. This is one of the few triggers that have been medically proven. When you are stressed, your brain releases serotonin, histamine and a host of chemicals that irritate nerves and blood vessels, thus causing inflammation and pain. Avoiding stressful situations, or learning how to manage stress can be instrumental in keeping migraine attacks under control.
Changes in sleep patterns are also thought to be a common cause of migraines, especially when paired with stress. For example, someone who starts a new job and gets up earlier every day than they are used to may find that they suffer from more migraines than usual. By adjusting one’s sleep schedule to include eight hours a night, and sticking to a regular schedule, migraine frequency may be lessened.
3. Skipping Meals
Hunger is another trigger for migraines. When you skip meals, you wreak havoc with your body’s blood sugar levels. These can cause hormonal fluctuations leading to migraines. Vitamin deficiency may also play a crucial role in the relationship between food and migraines. Eating small meals throughout the day may help keep migraine attacks at bay.
4. Dietary Triggers
What you eat can also have an effect on migraine frequency. The most common triggers among food are: Cheese, citrus, seafood, chocolate, nuts, peanut butter and avocados. Fatty or fried foods may also play a role. Studies have shown that some people lack a special enzyme in their bodies that helps neutralize a substance (called an amine) that is often found in foods that are triggers. The best way to rule out food sources as potential triggers is to keep a diary of what foods you eat, and when you suffer from an attack.
Interestingly, migraines affect women three times more often than men. Women are also more likely to suffer from a migraine during menstruation, pregnancy and menopause. Birth control pills may also play a factor in hormone related migraines. If this is the case, you may want to ask your doctor about non-hormonal contraception options.
Excess amounts of alcohol are hard on the body and the brain. Alcoholic beverages often contain sulphites, histamine, tyramine, phenylethylamine and flavanoid phenols. These chemicals are all considered to be migraine triggers. Migraine sufferers often report that red wine is a trigger, though no official studies show that red wine is worse than any other alcohol when it comes to triggering a migraine. Your best bet is to drink moderately, and keep a diary of what effects you feel.
If you smoke, there are numerous reasons why you should quit. In addition to causing lung cancer, emphysema, and numerous other health concerns, smoking may also be a migraine trigger.
If you regularly drink caffeine, and then skip your morning cup of coffee, you may trigger a migraine. Interrupting caffeine intake is one of the major triggers of migraines that sufferers report. If you are trying to limit your caffeine intake, or wean yourself off it altogether, do so in small doses. Don’t give it up cold turkey.
9. Food Additives
Food additives like monosodium glutamate (MSG) can trigger migraines in some people. Sulphites, which are found in hot dogs and other prepared meats, can also bring on an attack, as can fake sweeteners like aspartame. A good rule of thumb is to check your food labels. If there are chemicals listed that you can’t pronounce, then you might want to stay away from them. As stated already, keep a diary of what you eat, and the effects that different foods have on you.
10. Air Pollution
The quality of the air in your environment also plays a factor in triggering migraines. Strong perfumes and polluted air can bring on an attack in those who suffer from migraines. If you feel that this is the case for you, ask others in your house and even place of work if they would refrain from wearing strong perfume and cologne. You may also want to buy an air purifier for your home to cut down on other forms of air pollution.
By making a few changes in your life, you may be able to cut down on the number of migraines you suffer from, and may even get rid of migraines for good. Even if you do still need prescription medication to help control your symptoms, understanding what triggers your migraine can give you greater control and peace of mind.
About the author: Jennifer Sunde is a freelance writer and editor who writes for and helps manage a site devoted to career opportunities in health care. She also writes for a variety of sites devoted to fashion careers, home improvement and auto insurance.