‘Triggers’ are specific factors that may increase your risk of having a migraine attack.
Triggers do not ‘cause’ migraine. Instead, they are thought to activate processes that cause migraine in people who are prone to the illness. Most Migrainers have more than one trigger – yet a trigger may not cause a migraine every time. Triggers seem to build, so one day you may be able to have a glass of red wine and the next only a sip. Triggers compound until you reach your tipping point and then you have an attack. Also triggers can build over a number of days.
Understanding your triggers is an important part of your migraine management plan. Once you have identified your triggers, it will be easier for you to avoid them and reduce your chances of having a migraine attack.
Some triggers will jump out at you – others will be hard to find – but keeping a migraine diary can help.
Examples of triggers
Overuse of over-the-counter medications can cause rebound headaches.
Missed medication doses and certain medications may cause headaches.
Changes in sleep patterns eg napping, oversleeping, too little sleep
Estrogen level changes and fluctuations eg Menstrual cycles, birth control pills, hormone replacement therapies, peri-menopause, menopause, ovulation
Weather eg Weather and temperature changes, extreme heat or cold, humidity, barometric pressure changes Bright lights eg Bright or glaring lights, fluorescent lighting, flashing lights or screens
Odors/pollution eg Smog, smoke, perfumes, chemical odors
Other eg High altitude, airplane travel
Periods of high stress,including life changes
Reacting quickly and easily to stress
Factors related to stress include anxiety, worry, shock,depression, excitement, mental fatigue, loss and grief.
Both “bad stress” and “good stress” can be triggers. Howwe perceive and react to situations can trigger (or prevent) migraines. Other triggers can include unrealistic timelines or expectations of oneself.
Weekends, vacations, ending a project or stressful task (including presentations, papers, or exams)
Overexertion / Injuries eg Over-exercising when out of shape, exercising in heat, marathon running
Visual triggers eg eyestrain (if you wear glasses, make sure your prescription is current), bright or glaring lights, fluorescent lighting, flashing lights or computer screens
Becoming tired or fatigued
Food triggers do not necessarily contribute to migraines in all individuals, and particular foods may trigger attacks in certain people only on occasion. Be your own expert by keeping a journal of foods you have eaten before a migraine attack and see whether the removal or reduction of certain foods from your diet improves your headaches.
Skipping meals, fasting, and low blood sugar can also trigger migraines. If you’re unable to follow a normal eating schedule, pack snacks.
Chocolate and cocoa. Alcoholic beverages (especially red wine, beer, and sherry). Caffeine (even in small amounts) may be a trigger for some people.
Figs, raisins, papayas, avocados (especially if overripe), red plums, overripe bananas.
Beans such as broad, fava, garbanzo, Italian, lima, navy, pinto, pole. Sauerkraut, string beans, raw garlic, snow peas, olives, pickles, onions (except for flavouring)
Bread & Grains
Freshly baked yeast bread. Fresh yeast coffee cake, doughnuts, sourdough bread. Breads and crackers containing cheese, including pizza. Any product containing chocolate or nuts.
Cultured dairy products (buttermilk, sour cream). Chocolate milk. Cheese: blue, brick (natural), Gouda, Gruyere, mozzarella, Parmesan, provolone, romano, Roquefort, cheddar, Swiss (emmentaler), Stilton, Brie types and Camembert types.
Meat, fish, poultry
Aged, canned, cured or processed meat, including ham or game, pickled herring, salted dried fish, sardines, anchovies, chicken livers, sausage, bologna, pepperoni, salami, summer sausage, hot dogs, pâté, caviar. Any food prepared with meat tenderizer, soy sauce or brewer’s yeast. Any food containing nitrates, nitrites, or tyramine.
Canned soup, soup or bouillon cubes, soup base with autolytic yeast or MSG. Read labels.
Chocolate ice cream, pudding, cookies, cakes, or pies. Mincemeat pie. Nuts. Any yeast-containing doughs and pastries.
Nutrasweet, monosodium glutamate (MSG), yeast/yeast extract, meat tenderizer (Accent), seasoned salt, mixed dishes, pizza, cheese sauce, macaroni and cheese, beef stroganoff, cheese blintzes, lasagna, frozen TV dinners, chocolate. Nuts and nut butters. Pumpkin, sesame and sunflower seeds. Anything fermented, pickled or marinated. Some aspirin medications that contain caffeine. Excessive amounts of Niacin (Niacinamide is fine). Excessive Vitamin A (over 25,000 I.U. daily).