Managing migraines can make you feel a lot like Goldilocks, looking for just the right amount of sleep or exercise — or porridge, if that would help keep the throbbing away. Far from being a fairy tale, trying to find the right balance in life is all too real.
Research has shown that habits such as too much or too little sleep and extreme exercise can trigger migraines, and the thinking has been that your best bet for managing migraines is to know your triggers and avoid them. Research published in Neurology found just how complex managing migraine triggers can be.
According to the study, more than 50 percent of people plagued by migraines with aura know of at least one stimulus that always or often triggers their attacks. Yet the researchers found that only one in 10 people who experienced migraines with aura developed a migraine after being exposed to one lone trigger.
“This is consistent with prior conceptions of migraine triggers, which surmise that the relationship of triggers to headaches was not one-to-one — rather, we believe triggers are multi-factorial,” says Joshua M. Cohen, MD, MPH, an attending neurologist and headache fellowship director at the Headache Institute of St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital Center in New York City. “In other words, exposure to a bright light may not trigger a migraine, but if you are exposed to a bright light as well as other triggers on the same day, such as a change in the weather and going too long without eating, you might get a migraine.”
This means you may need to look at your triggers a little differently than you’re used to. It might be better to think of your triggers as individual risk factors for bringing on a migraine, says Robert Kaniecki, MD, director of the University of Pittsburgh Headache Center, chief of the headache division, and an assistant professor of neurology. Then figure out what your migraine threshold is — what combination of those aggravating circumstances it takes to produce a migraine attack for you.