Some people are genetically predisposed to getting migraine headaches. When a migraine occurs, there is a drastic drop in serotonin levels in the brain, causing a release of a certain type of neuropeptides that play a role in pain transmission. While some people are predisposed to getting migraine headaches, there are also external factors that can trigger these headaches. Not everyone has the same environmental triggers. Here are twelve commonly reported environmental triggers. Think about these factors when you analyze the migraines you’ve had recently and see if any of them might be a trigger for you:
1. Skipping Meals – If you’re prone to getting migraines, it’s important to eat your meals on time. It’s not actually being hungry that triggers the migraine, but hypoglycemia, or a drop in blood sugar levels.
2. Processed Foods – Processed foods have a number of additives, and these additives have been known to trigger migraines. Some of these include artificial sweeteners, MSG, and nitrites or nitrates that are found in processed meats.
3. Tyrosine – Foods that have been aged for flavor and preservation, such as certain cheeses, salamis and other cured or dried meats. Some of these contain nitrates, but one thing they all have in common is tyrosine. Other foods that contain tyrosine include bananas, peaches and almonds.
4. Caffeine – Caffeine isn’t always bad. In fact, some migraine medications contain caffeine. Caffeine can be a trigger for some people when it’s used in excess or when experiencing caffeine withdrawal.
5. Alcohol – Just as alcohol can trigger regular headaches, it can also trigger migraine headaches. Some migraine sufferers might experience a migraine just a couple of hours after drinking. This could be caused by certain chemicals in the drink. Red wine is the most frequently reported trigger. Other migraine sufferers report onset of a migraine the following day. In this case, the trigger is most likely dehydration.
6. Stress – As most people already know, whether they have migraines or not, stress can cause headaches. If you’re having a particularly stressful day, try to step back for a few minutes, take a few deep breaths and clear your mind.
7. Sleep – Sleep deprivation causes a buildup of P2X3 proteins which are thought to play a role in migraines and chronic pain. Likewise, too much sleep can also trigger migraine headaches. It is best for migraine sufferers to keep a regular sleep schedule every day of the week.
8. Bright lights - Light causes electrical activity in certain neurons, but why this triggers migraines in some people is still unknown. Bright glares or flashing lights are the most commonly reported light triggers, but fluorescent lights and TV and computer screens have also been reported as triggers.
9. Loud sounds – Not only can loud noises can trigger migraine headaches for some people, but certain types of noises can make migraines worse. Migraines can cause sounds to seem louder than they really are.
10. Chemical odors – Strong fumes or odors can cause headaches in general and also trigger migraines.
11. Weather changes – Changes in humidity and drops in barometric pressure are known triggers for many people. Some people also report extreme temperature changes as a trigger.
12. Medications – Hormonal changes can trigger migraine headaches. Because birth control contains synthetic estrogen and progestin, it can also trigger migraine headaches for some women. Other medications that can cause some people to have migraines include asthma medications, stimulants (such as diet pills and ADHD medications), and any medications that contain nitrates. Some blood pressure and chest pain medications contain nitrates.
Because migraine triggers are different for everyone, the best way to determine what factors may cause you to have a migraine is to keep a journal. This journal should be similar to the way dieters keep a food log. Entries don’t have to be long or detailed, but try to keep track of what you eat and drink on a daily basis and if you have a migraine or not. You should also include information on how stressful the day was. If you did have a migraine on a particular day, also try to remember other events that occurred and record those as well, such as loud noises, bright lights or strong odors. After a few months of keeping a migraine journal, you should be better aware of which triggers you are sensitive to.
For more information about migraines, headaches and their related medications and treatments, visit our Headache Migraine Conditions Page.