While frustrating to sufferers, the exact causes of migraines are not known at this time. That is why it is important to manage them as best you can to prevent future migraines from occurring. One way to do this is by identifying and then avoiding your migraine triggers. Different triggers will affect each person differently and triggers can even affect each headache differently for the same patient. But avoiding these triggers is sometimes the only way to avoid a migraine.
To identify your triggers, you will need to keep a headache diary. Record each migraine as well as the following information:
- Time of day it started
- What you have eaten or drank in the past 24 hours
- What you were doing when it started
- Where you were when it started
- Additional contributing factors, if any (Example: a women would note if she had her period)
You will also want to keep track of any medication and how much you take for relief as well as if it helped. As you continue to keep this diary, you will notice certain triggers are present with your migraines. During your next doctor’s visit, bring this with you.
Your doctor may be able to pinpoint some additional triggers that you may not have noticed. Once you have identified a trigger, you can begin to avoid it. You may still want to keep the headache diary though since people usually have multiple triggers.
To avoid experiencing a migraine, you should do your best to avoid your triggers. Avoid food, beverages, perfumes or smells that are known to trigger a migraine for you. Establishing a daily routine in a controlled environment can be helpful to keep triggers away.
When triggers can be different for everyone, the most common migraine triggers are as follows:
- Sleep changes – either getting too little or too much
- Strong odors
- Bright lights / photophobia
- Loud noises / phonophobia
- Stress and anxiety
- Changes in weather or barometric pressure
- Hormonal changes – particularly for women
- Physical exertion
- Skipping a meal or fasting
Food is an extremely common migraine trigger. The most common food triggers are:
- Anything containing aspartame, an artificial sugar
- Food containing tyramine, such as hard cheeses
- Foods containing monosodium glutamate (MSG), mainly processed foods as well as many broths
- Caffeinated or alcoholic beverages
- Food containing nitrates, especially hot dogs, bacon and salami
Besides environmental triggers, there are many other factors that should be considered when identifying migraine triggers. These range from genetics to weight. Some top factors to consider include:
- Genetics – 90% of people who suffer from migraines have a family history of migraines. Therefore, if your parents or siblings have migraines, you are more likely to have them as well.
- Age – Migraines typically begin occurring around adolescence.
- Gender – In children, boys are more likely to suffer from a migraine. However, around puberty that seems to switch and in adults, over 70% of migraine sufferers are women.
- Weight – Women with a higher BMI who are considered mildly or morbidly obese have a greater likelihood of migraines compared to women with a lower BMI