Migraine headaches commonly only start as a dull ache, but they increase in pain until it is severe enough to interfere with daily activities for long time periods—from several hours to even days.  Not many sufferers are able to pinpoint why the migraines happen when they do. There are many environmental factors, both from personal and external environments, that can trigger migraine headaches.  Below is a short round-up of some more common triggers.

Stress

Stress is the most commonly reported/indicated migraine trigger factor. Migraine sufferers are thought to be more highly emotionally responsive than others, and a myriad of emotions release certain brain chemicals that lead to migraines.

Food

There are certain foods that are known to trigger migraines among those who are susceptible to them. They can be difficult to pinpoint, as the migraine can take anywhere from one to seventy-two hours to develop. Some common foods that can trigger migraines include the following:

  • Caffeine: while excessive use of caffeine (more than two servings per day) can cause migraines, so can an abrupt end to consumption.
  • Alcohol
  • Chocolate
  • Foods containing nitrates or nitrites (i.e. bacon, hot dogs)
  • Foods containing MSG (i.e. soy sauce, meat tenderizers, seasoned salt)
  • Aged/ripened cheeses
  • Broad beans, lima beans, fava beans, snow peas
  • Citrus fruits
  • Figs, raisins, papaya, avocados, red plums

The above list is by no means comprehensive.  Food that appears on this trigger list or any other that you may find in research does not trigger migraines in everyone but tends to be more highly reported than others.

Female Hormonal Changes

Women tend to experience migraines before or even during ovulation.  The culprit of these migraines is believed to be an accompanying drop in estrogen.  In addition, a post-period migraine can develop because of a sense of release that may occur after an exceptionally stressful period.

Due to the same change in hormones experienced during a period, women nearing menopause may also experience migraines as they experience fluctuating estrogen levels.

Weather

Many people who suffer from migraines tend to cite weather as a trigger for the onset.  To test the correlation between weather and migraines, three headache centers in New York and Connecticut provided headache diaries for an extended period of time.  These diaries were compared to weather data from sites near the study centers.  Weather variables included temperature, dew point, humidity, barometric pressure, etc.  Analysis of the diaries showed that more than half of the participants were sensitive to any weather factor.

However, it can be difficult for an individual to predict exactly which changes in weather are responsible for the increased susceptibility to migraines.

Lighting

Exposure to bright or flickering lights is often reported as a migraine trigger.  Migraine sufferers may be more sensitive to light in general; those with chronic headaches may be more sensitive to environmental lighting, even when they are free from headaches at the current moment.

A case-control study showed light sensitivity in roughly half of those who suffer from headaches compared with roughly 30 percent of controls in the absence of headache.  In the same study, bright lights triggered headaches in roughly 30 percent of individuals and irritating headaches in roughly three quarters.

Noise

Retrospectively, noise is often cited as a migraine trigger.

In a study of sound-induced discomfort, subjects with migraines had a lower noise threshold than the control group.  The difference was significant.  Another study supported this, proving that although the hearing threshold is not different between those with migraines and those without, the hearing discomfort threshold is much lower in migraine patients between migraine onsets.

Other Notable Triggers

Other cited migraine triggers include:

  • Indoor environment visual stimuli (i.e. computer screens)
  • Poor air quality and cigarette smoke
  • Mold

Need help with chronic or persistent migraine, cluster, or tension headaches? Contact The Migraine Institute today to set up a consultation.

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