Most people who experience migraine headaches have a number of triggers which can kick-start an acute episode. By understanding what these triggers are, migraine sufferers can make lifestyle adjustments that can help to prevent or minimize the frequency and severity of their attacks. Below is a list of common migraine triggers along with ways that patients can manage them so that the burdens of migraine can be reduced.
Stress triggers headaches in approximately 70% of people who suffer from migraine; however, there are ways to help relieve stress which can subsequently mitigate symptoms (Maleki et al., 2012). Physical exercise plays an important role in reducing stress, so patients should carve out some time from their weekly schedules for physical activity. To start with, forty minutes of physical exercise three times a week can help to reduce daily stress levels. Additional stress relief activities such as acupuncture, yoga, relaxation training, massage, cognitive behavioral therapy, and biofeedback can help to lessen stress as well (Barbalich, 2018).
Skipping meals is a common migraine trigger which can be avoided by regulating mealtimes and carrying around healthy snacks (mixed nuts, fresh or dried fruit) so that blood sugar levels don’t drop enough to cause an attack.
Certain foods, drinks and flavorings can precipitate migraine attacks in some sufferers. Examples may include artificial sweeteners such as aspartame as well as monosodium glutamate (MSG), which is found in processed foods and condiments. Moreover, some people experience migraine symptoms from alcohol consumption and caffeine withdrawal.
Dehydration is another common trigger of migraines, so patients should stay hydrated to avoid an attack. A general guideline is for patients to drink half their body weight in ounces of water per day. So, someone who weighs 180 lbs. should drink about 90 oz. of water, although this may vary according to activity levels and outdoor weather conditions (Barbalich, 2018).
Poor sleep habits can also trigger migraine symptoms in people, so it’s important to stick to a consistent sleep schedule. Waking up at the same time each day is recommended, even if bedtime varies somewhat at night. Moreover, inadequate sleep and too much sleep are equally just as risky for triggering migraines.
Many women experience migraines due to their hormones. In fact, according to the National Headache Foundation, about 60% of women who have migraine experience an attack immediately before or after their menstrual cycle. Currently, one of the best treatment strategies for this is to have medication on hand so that acute episodes can be prevented around this time. Additionally, avoiding or reducing other migraine triggers can help to lessen or prevent migraine attacks associated with the menstrual cycle (Barbalich, 2018).
By learning what some of the most common migraine triggers are, patients can better prepare themselves to prevent or reduce the severity of migraine attacks. It’s important for migraine sufferers to visit a physician who can prescribe appropriate treatments and provide advice on lifestyle changes which can let patients better manage their migraine triggers.
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Barbalich, A. (2018). Helping patients manage their migraine triggers. Health Monitor Medical Update on Migraine Prevention, 16-18.
Maleki N, et al. Migraine: Maladaptive brain responses to stress. Headache. 2012;52 (Suppl 2): 102-106.