Your Migraine Trigger Hit List
The list of potential migraine triggers is a long one, and the possible combinations that could add up to your migraine is even longer. But paying attention to the various triggers that are going on simultaneously can lead to better migraine control. Here are key migraine “risk factors” to be aware of:
- Too much or too little sleep
- Overeating or going too long without eating
- Change in severity of stress levels
- Excess caffeine or drastically reducing the amount you’re used to
- Extreme exercise
- Getting your period
- Drinking alcohol
- Eating certain foods
- Being in excessive heat
- Experiencing neck pain
- Certain odors, such as perfume
Some triggers are unavoidable — you can’t stop your period from coming or control the weather. But if you know that skipping exercise and drinking too much coffee when you have your period is sure to bring on a migraine, take steps to avoid the triggers that you can control.
The reason that managing migraines is so challenging, explains Dr. Kaniecki, is that there are likely multiple genetic forms of migraine and so many potential triggers. Stress, female hormonal changes, the weather, changes in your daily schedule, and sensory stimulation from fluorescent lights, loud noise, and strong odors can all impact a genetically predisposed nervous system in a way that results in a migraine. “To date, we have yet to identify the most common genetic variations responsible for migraine in the population,” Kaniecki says.
Though a migraine is complex, in simple terms, it just means that your brain is “hyperexcitable,” reacting at a lower threshold than it would in someone without migraine, says Dr. Cohen, and leading to an inflammatory process that produces headaches. This hyperexcitable state is inherited, but there are likely hundreds, maybe even thousands, of genes that produce migraines.
Lifestyle Steps for Preventing Migraines
Healthy lifestyle habits can help keep a hyperexcitable brain on an even keel. In addition to looking for trigger patterns, help to prevent attacks by:
- Eating meals and snacks on a regular schedule
- Sleeping on a regular schedule — avoid napping and sleeping in on weekends
- Staying well hydrated — that means 40 to 60 ounces of water a day
- Exercising regularly
“All of these factors have been shown to improve the course for patients with migraine,” Cohen says, “and are an important part of migraine management.”