5 Natural Chronic Pain Management Ways That Can Really HelpThe exact cause of migraine is not fully understood, but certain factors can set off an attack. Here is a list of the top migraine triggers.

If you’re a migraine sufferer, you’ll dread the next attack.  So it’s important to understand what triggers your migraines. You can then take steps to help reduce their frequency. There are millions of migraine suffers but not everyone’s are triggered by the same things. Health professionals have identified the most common migraine triggers.

The Migraine Trust describes a trigger as “any event, change, external stimulus or physical act which seems to result in migraine.”  There are many and varied migraine triggers. Here is a list of the main ones which you can use to identify what may be causing your attacks.


Top Migraine Triggers


Dietary Triggers

Food related triggers occur in about 10% of people with migraine.

  1. Lack of food
  • Research shows that missed, delayed or irregular meals is one of the most important dietary triggers of migraine. Between 12% and 60% of patients say that certain foods trigger migraine headaches.
  • When you don’t eat enough carbohydrates, your blood-glucose levels drop too low. Your brain needs a continuous supply of glucose in order to function, and if glucose levels drop then your brain is one of the first organs affected.


  1. Dehydration
  • Mild dehydration has been linked to the onset of headache.
  • A small study of migraine sufferers showed that insufficient fluid intake was linked to the onset of headache in approximately 40% of participants.


  1. Cheese

Ripened and soft cheeses such as Cheddar, Emmental, Stilton, Brie, and Camembert contain tyramine which triggers migraine attacks.


  1. Alcohol

A Brazilian study found that alcohol triggered migraine in about one-third of the migraine sufferers studied.

  • Red wine may trigger migraine because it contains tyramine. Red wine affected 19.5% of the men and women studied but white wine was associated with migraine in just 10.55% of participants.
  • It seems to trigger migraine in women more than men. In the study, red wine triggered migraine in 8% of men, but 22 % of women.
  • Beer, sherry, and vermouth also contain large amounts of tyramine.


  1. Artificial additives
  • Aspartame – a sweetener found in fizzy drinks and other products.
  • Monosodium glutamate – a flavour enhancer found in such things as soy sauce, meat tenderizers, and seasoned salt.
  • Nitrates and nitrites – food preservatives added to processed meats such as bacon and hot dogs.


  1. Caffeine
  • Caffeine is present in tea, coffee, cola drinks, chocolate and some pain-relief drugs.
  • The average American consumes between 200-300 mg of caffeine every day.
  • Many people suffer migraines at the weekend. This is the time when you may have a change in many of your daily routines such as eating times, and reduced caffeine consumption when not at work. Caffeine does not directly trigger a migraine attack, but withdrawal of caffeine after you have been continually consuming a lot of it appears to result in migraine.


  1. Chocolate

Chocolate contains phenylethylamine which may alter blood flow in the brain. It is also involved in the release of other chemicals which cause migraine. Chocolate also contains caffeine. A recent study casts doubt on the link between chocolate and migraine attack. It is advisable to monitor if you get migraines after eating chocolate.


Environmental Triggers

  1. Smells

Perfume appears to be a common trigger. Other odors include nail polish, paint, gasoline, and cleaning products. Almost half of migraine patients report an intolerance for smells during attacks. This is known as “osmophobia” and is unique to migraine sufferers.


  1. Weather

High humidity, very cold temperatures, and thunderstorms with lightning appear to trigger attacks. Research concluded that lightning was the precipitating factor, but there is uncertainty about how lightning might trigger migraine.


  1. Bright Lights and Loud Noises
  • Bright, flickering, or pulsating lights, or glare. 80% of migraine suffers in a study where found to have abnormal sensitivity to light and noise.
  • Flickering screens, such as a television or computer screens.


Emotional Triggers


Migraine and stress (bad and good) are strongly linked.

  • Work stress
  • Excitement
  • Tension
  • Shock
  • Long journeys
  • Ironically, some people get migraines at the weekend or on holiday when they are most relaxed after a busy and stressful week at work.


Physical Triggers


  • Too much sleep can trigger migraine in some people e.g. sleeping-in at the weekend or dozing in the morning.
  • For others, too little sleep is the trigger such as sleepless nights, a number of late nights in a row, or being over tired.


  • About 50% of female migraine sufferers say their menstrual cycle directly affects their migraine. The cause is thought to be due to a drop in estrogen.
  • These sort of migraines usually occur about two days before the start of the period to three days after.
  • As women near menopause, fluctuating estrogen levels can trigger an increase in migraines. Many women find their migraines are less frequent or end after the menopause.

Identifying a trigger is not always easy. Keep a headache diary to help you narrow down and identify your own personal triggers.  Use the list of top migraine triggers above as a checklist.

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