Know Your Migraine Triggers

  • woman in sunshine experiencing headache
    You feel the “aura” coming on.
    The idea of getting a premonition before a headache may sound far-fetched or even supernatural to some. But if you've ever had a migraine, you likely know exactly what it means—the intense energy, fatigue, food cravings, and mood changes. You may even experience visual disturbances of flashing lights, zig-zag lines, or a temporary loss of vision. When you feel this "aura" coming on, you know what you're in for.

  • woman with headache in front of computer
    Learn to identify your triggers.
    Migraines have no cure, but they can be treated. Prompt action can reduce the severity and duration of your migraine. Certain things are found to trigger them.  A combination of triggers—not just one single event—are likelier to set them off. Part of building a treatment plan is identifying what triggers your migraines.

  • senior-woman-sitting-outside
    Keep a headache journal to track triggers.
    So, do you know what your triggers are? You may be aware of some, but not all. You can pinpoint your migraine triggers by keeping a headache journal. Each day you have a migraine, take note of the following:

    • The time of day your headache started

    • Where you were, what you were up to, and when it started

    • What you ate and drank in the last 24 hours

    • If you had your period, note each day you had it--not just the day it started

    Armed and ready with your journal, watch for the following triggers!



  • woman holding cup of tea
    Certain foods like cocoa and caffeine can trigger migraines.
    Chocolate has a bad rap for causing everything from acne to headaches. While cocoa is a potential trigger, so are red wine, caffeine, sour cream, aspartame, beans, nuts, soy sauce, lunch meat, pickled foods, and many other foods. Did you eat a peanut butter sandwich the day your migraine started? Make note of it in your journal so that you can spot patterns and share them with your doctor.

  • Friends enjoying a meal
    Don’t miss mealtime.
    Avoid the foods that do the triggering—but don't avoid the meals. It's best for everyone to follow a healthy diet and not miss out on mealtimes.

  • Woman sleeping
    Stay on a sleep schedule.
    Do you jump out of bed some mornings, but hit the snooze button for an hour on others? This could be a trigger. Try going to bed and getting up at the same time every day. Establishing a sleep routine can help keep you on the right track. Not only can lack of sleep cause you problems, but so can too much sleep.

  • Women in yoga class
    Reduce stress with exercise.
    It's not a big surprise that daily life stresses can spur a migraine. Juggling multiple responsibilities—your career, household finances, parenting, and relationships—can take its toll. This may seem like an obvious one, but make note of what stressed you out leading up to your headache. Is it driving in traffic? Maybe you can carpool or ride the subway to work instead. For stresses you can't avoid, make sure you take some time for yourself. Do relaxation techniques like yoga, and get at least 30 minutes of exercise on most days.

  • Woman staring out window
    Hormonal fluctuations may be a trigger.
    More than half of migraines in women happen right before, during, or after their period. That said, most women who have migraines around the time of their period also have them at other times of the month. How the menstrual cycle is linked to migraines is still unclear, but it may be due to the drop in estrogen and progesterone that occurs right before the cycle begins. Furthermore, about two-thirds of women report their migraine symptoms improve with menopause.

  • birth control pills and calendar
    The pill may affect your migraines.
    Some women report the pill worsens their migraines. On the other hand, some women say being on it actually improves them. To complicate matters, some women report the pill has no effect on their migraines. If you feel the pill is affecting your migraines, make sure you talk with your doctor.

  • female-doctor-talking-with-female-patient
    Gaining insight helps treatment.
    You can't cure your migraines, but you can better understand what causes them. Keeping note of what your triggers are can give your doctor insight into how to best treat yours.

Know Your Migraine Triggers

About The Author

  1. Migraine Headaches: Ways to Deal with the Pain. American Academy of Family Physicians. http://familydoctor.org/online/famdocen/home/common/brain/disorders/127.printerview.html
  2. Migraine Information Page. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. National Institutes of Health. http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/migraine/migraine.htm
  3. Migraine. National Women’s Health Information Center. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.(http://www.womenshealth.gov/faq/migraine.cfm
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Last Review Date: 2019 Jun 27
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