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A migraine trigger is anything that brings on a migraine attack.
It doesn’t cause the migraine, it sets it off at any given time. Different things trigger migraines in different people. And the same trigger doesn’t always provoke a migraine in the same person. To complicate things, everyone is different – what triggers your migraine probably won’t trigger someone else’s.
Triggers should be thought of as risk factors. Several factors may actually spur an attack. Keep a migraine diary and look for patterns in your attacks. By determining your personal migraine threshold – the combination of triggers it takes to produce your migraine attack –you may be able to limit how often you get migraines and how severe they are. Triggers add up, so the fewer you have at one time, the better your chances of preventing a migraine.
Contrary to popular belief, there are no universal triggers, but here some commonly occurring ones:
Lifestyle Triggers: changes in sleep patterns, fasting, skipping meals, dehydration, alcohol, over-exertion, exercise, stress.
Environmental Triggers: strong smells, bright or flickering lights, smoke/pollution, altitude, air pressure (as in airplane travel), motion sickness (as in a car, train, and boat travel).
Weather-related Triggers: humidity (both high and low), sudden or big changes in temperature, changes in barometric pressure, bright sunlight.
Hormonal Triggers: changes in hormone levels, pregnancy, menstruation, menopause, hormone replacement therapy, oral contraceptives.
Medication Triggers: overuse of pain medications (both over-the-counter and prescription), oral contraceptives, medication side-effects.
Strong scientific evidence linking migraine to specific foods is lacking. If they’re present, food triggers differ among individuals, and specific foods may become triggers only when combined with other triggers. These foods and additives are often named as common triggers: artificial sweeteners, MSG (a flavor enhancer in many processed foods), nitrates (cured meats), and tyramines (fermented foods, aged cheeses, freshly baked yeast bread and cake), alcohol (especially red wine and beer), caffeine.
The information provided here should not be used for the diagnosis, treatment, or evaluation of any medical condition. The Migraine Research Foundation has made every effort to ensure that the information is accurate; however, we cannot warranty its reliability, completeness, or timeliness. © Migraine Research Foundation.