Migraine headache triggers

Triggers of migraine headache vary among individuals and include behavioral factors, foods, hormones, medicines, lights, odors, or other environmental factors. The most common migraine triggers are:1

  • Stress (either during a stressful time or right after stress subsides).
  • Menstrual cycle in women.
  • Changes in sleep—getting either too much or too little sleep.
  • Fasting or skipping meals.
  • Changes in the weather, heat, or high humidity.
  • Bright lights, glare, reflected sunlight, or other intense visual stimuli.
  • Foods, such as chocolate.
  • Alcohol—all alcohol, or one type of alcohol in particular, like beer or wine.
  • Odors such as perfume, paint, dust, and certain flowers.

Other migraine triggers include:

  • Strong emotions, such as depression or anxiety.
  • Physical exercise.
  • Aspartame.
  • Monosodium glutamate (MSG).
  • Nitrates, which are found in cured meats such as hot dogs, bacon, and cold cuts.
  • Tyramines, which are found in pickled or marinated foods, aged cheeses, and yeast.
  • Smoking or being around someone who smokes.
  • Excessive caffeine or caffeine withdrawal.
  • Birth control pills and hormone therapy.
  • Medications that expand (dilate) the blood vessels (vasodilators), such as nifedipine, and nitrates.
  • Overuse of headache pain medications, leading to rebound headaches.

Citations

  1. Evans RW (2003). Migraine. In Saunders Manual of Neurologic Practice, chap. 11, pp. 421–430. Philadelphia: Saunders.

Last Updated: June 30, 2009

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