There are many different types of migraines and even more types of migraine triggers. This is because a migraine is a still mostly misunderstood malady that attacks each sufferer, or migraineur, in a different way. Although the cause of migraines remains a medical mystery, it is known that certain events, foods or lifestyle habits can initiate the mysterious force behind migraines. These things are called migraine triggers.
Although not every migraine patient will have these common migraine triggers, it’s still good to be aware of them to help point a patient in the right direction in helping them to identify their own triggers. Keeping a journal can greatly help. This can list what the patient was doing right before the migraine, how long the attack lasted, if they did anything different that day or what time of the month it is (for women).
Those Fun Chemicals
Chemical migraine triggers include the additives and preservatives added to food and beverages. The most common culprits are the nitrates in hot dogs and monosodium glutamate (MSG) in preserved foods and some Chinese take-out dishes. Artificial sweeteners, especially aspartame (Equal), can trigger attacks.
The most common food items that can trigger migraines are red wine, aged meats and cheeses, lunchmeat, preserved or tinned meats, peanuts, snow peas, citrus fruits, avocado, chicken livers, full-fat dairy products, vinegar, pickles, olives, soy sauce and sweet snacks with loads of calories and preservatives.
Going through withdrawal of a prescription medication, artificial sweetener or even caffeine can trigger excruciating migraines. The only way to safely reduce these chemicals in your life is to talk to your doctor about how gradually you need to reduce the particular chemical.
Those Fun Events
Other migraine triggers can include flashing lights, flickering lights, strong glare from the sun or light off of a reflective surface, strong smells (particularly perfume, tobacco smoke and new shower curtains), sudden swings in temperature (such as walking from an air-conditioned room to tropical humidity), lack of sleep, sudden drops in barometric pressure (which usually happens before it rains) and premenstrual syndrome (in women).
Stress is also usually listed as a migraine trigger, but it’s given a vague description. For some people, not having enough sleep is all they need to be completely stressed out. For others, the only thing that gets a rise out of them is if the airplane they are riding in suddenly plummets.
Many people turn to chemicals to help ward off stress. This can be anything from a can of beer, to cigarettes to a handful of sleeping pills. Unfortunately, all of these products can turn into migraine triggers.
Many people may not have a “smoking gun” migraine trigger. It could be that drinking red wine only sets off a migraine on days when other triggers are present, such as stress, skipping a meal and the client with the really bad aftershave. On those days, you know to stay far away from wine.
Identifying triggers should not be used in the place of a doctor. But they can help your doctor do his or her work more effectively.
Migraines For Dummies. Diane Stafford & Jennifer Shoquist, MD. Wiley Publishing; 2003.
Menstrual Migraine. Susan Hutchinson, et al. Oxford University Press; 2008.
University of California, Berkley. University Health Services. “Migraine Triggers.”
National Headache Foundation. “Keeping a Headache Diary Can Help Your Doctor Help You.”
Author suffers from migraines.