Many things can cause migraine headaches. Some seem harmless enough, like a glass of red wine or change in your daily routine. But if enough triggers add up, you may find yourself suffering the familiar migraine symptoms of intense throbbing, pulsing in one area of the head, nausea, vomiting, and extreme sensitivity to light. All you want to do now is find a dark, quiet place where you can lie down. Instead of being miserable with these headaches, you can try to limit how often you get migraines and their intensity by finding and avoiding your migraine triggers.
Certain factors that can make people more prone to developing migraines include having a family history of migraines, being a woman, experiencing the first migraine during adolescence, and undergoing hormonal changes due to estrogen fluctuations during menstruation, pregnancy and menopause. Food, stress and changes in your daily routine also can set off migraines.
Common triggers include:
- Certain foods, including blue and aged cheeses (Roquefort, Stilton, Gorgonzola or Parmesan), as well as some Asian foods made with monosodium glutamate, chocolate, aspartame, salty or processed foods, citrus (oranges, lemons, limes, grapefruits and pineapples), nitrates found in cured meats (hot dogs, bacon or cold cuts), and foods that contain tyramines, such as soy, marinated or pickled products.
- Too much caffeine.
- Skipping meals or fasting for too long.
- Certain odors, such as perfumes, paint or certain flowers.
- Bright lights or sun glare. Getting too much or too little sleep.
- Changes in the weather or high humidity.
- Loud noises.
- Certain medications, such as oral contraceptives or ones that expand the blood vessels.
- Intense exercise.
- Smoking or being around someone who smokes.
- Strong emotions, such as anxiety or depression.
Keeping a diary can help identify your migraine triggers. Each time you have a migraine, write down the time of day and what you were doing when the headache started, what you ate or drank 24 hours before it began, and how long it lasts. Be sure to record any unusual stress and overall state of health. It is important to remember that less than 30 percent of migraine sufferers identify food as triggers. To be recognized as a migraine trigger, the food must start a headache within one day of the time it is consumed for more than half the time that it is eaten.
Over time, you may notice a pattern to your headaches. Once the triggers are identified, it will be easier to take steps to avoid them. You won’t be able to control all your triggers, but you can limit them so they don’t add up and start a migraine. In addition to managing triggers, other ways to reduce the number and severity of migraines include exercising regularly, getting a good night’s rest, watching what you eat, drinking plenty of fluids, eating on a regular schedule, and managing stress through relaxation exercises or biofeedback.