10 Most Common Headache and Migraine Triggers


Migraines are a common neurological condition, but experts do not fully understand the cause. People with migraines often have recurring attacks that are triggered by different factors. Each person’s triggers can be unique, but they frequently include stress, lights, sounds, smells, physical activity, changes in the weather, hormonal changes or sleep disruptions. Some research suggests that genetics play a role, but this is not fully understood.

Tracking and understanding what triggers a migraine attack is helpful in managing the condition. Here are 10 common migraine triggers.

Stress is the most common trigger of headaches and migraines. More than 70 percent of patients experience a high level of stress leading up to a migraine. During stressful times, people can experience tightening of the neck and shoulder muscles, and this pain can be felt in the head. Anxiety and depression are also linked to migraines.

Hormonal Changes
Women are three times more likely than men to experience migraines. Changes in hormone levels are associated with women’s migraine attacks, and many women experience an attack during the time of their menstrual period. A condition called “menstrual migraine”, occurs when a woman’s only migraine trigger is fluctuating estrogen and progesterone levels. 

Many people report red wine as a migraine trigger. Red wine contains tyramine, which is a naturally occurring substance that may be related to migraines. Research shows that all types of alcohol, not just red wine, can be triggers.

Computer Screens
Light from computer screens is a migraine trigger, most likely caused by additional stress on the eyes. Sensitivity to indoor or outdoor light is one of the most common migraine symptoms. In addition to computer screens, other types of light, including natural, fluorescent, bright or flickering, may be to blame.

A variety of different foods are linked to migraine attacks. Some of the most common triggers are artificial sweeteners, caffeine, MSG, chocolate, dairy products, cured meats or foods that have a strong smell. When diet affects migraines, the pain and symptoms may occur immediately after eating, or they may take a while to begin. Tracking the foods you eat and the symptoms you experience can be helpful to manage the condition.

Sensitivity to certain smells, also called osmophobia, can trigger a migraine attack. Common smell triggers are various types of food or perfume. Researchers believe that certain odors affect nerve receptors in the nasal passages, leading to a migraine.

Changes in Weather
When the weather changes, many people report migraine attacks. These atmospheric changes include humidity, heat, cold fronts, storms or changing barometric pressure. Heat and humidity can cause dehydration which is another migraine trigger.

Staying hydrated may help prevent migraines. Dehydration often involves a decrease of oxygen to the brain, which can cause pain and other symptoms like dizziness.

Medication Reaction
When people experience headaches or migraines, they often take over-the-counter or prescription pain medication. This may improve the pain, initially, but can cause problems if used for extended periods of time. Taking medication for migraines, for more than one week each month can cause a condition called medication-overuse headache (or rebound phenomenon). In these cases, the medication used to eliminate pain actually causes it to continue.

Lack of Sleep or Changes in Sleep Pattern
A strong connection exists between changes in sleep patterns and migraines. Quality sleep is essential to renewing and restoring various functions in the body and when sleep is disrupted, the brain does not get the rest it needs. Studies suggest that a large percentage of migraine attacks occur during normal sleeping hours, which may lead to sleep disorders that will make the condition worse.

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