What Triggers Migraine Headaches and Why You Need to Know




Taking Control Of What Triggers Migraine Headaches

Once your migraine headache is over, all you can think is, “How can I keep that from happening again?” One way of doing so in to know what causes a migraine to manifest in you, or to know your migraine triggers. First, you must know what things can trigger migraines before you can determine what triggers your migraine headaches. In this article, I am going to discuss what triggers migraine headaches as comprehensively as possible. I have scoured the web once again to bring you the most complete information.

As there are many migraine triggers, determining which ones set off your migraine will take some time. You simply cannot avoid everything or cut everything that triggers migraines all at once. In fact, there are some triggers, like environmental factors you can do little about. Knowing them, however, allows you to be better prepared to manage the migraine attack that may be looming. The categories or migraine triggers include environmental factors, sensory stimuli, eating habits, food and food additives, hormonal issues, alcohol, physical factors, obesity, and sleep.

Environmental Triggers

Environmental factors are things like lighting and smells, but these things warrant a separate category all on their own. But let’s look at the other environmental factors. Weather is a big factor. Perhaps you have noticed that every time a big storm rolls in, you have a migraine headache? That is because the barometric pressure drops, it becomes humid and rains, and there is usually a temperature rise or drop. Perhaps there is both: it rises just before the storm and drops right afterward. Thee are all environmental factors that affect migraine headaches.

Barometric pressure changes in and or themselves, whether they are accompanied by the wind, rain, thunder, lighting or snow and sleet, affect how your body functions. Human bodies work best in moderate to high barometric pressure and not so much in low or changing pressures. Temperatures and temperature changes, if they happen suddenly, also affect how the body functions. Also, high temperatures which cause the body to dehydrate can cause migraine headache attacks. If you suffer from seasonal allergies, an allergy attack can cause migraine headache attacks, as well.

But what can you do about Environmental changes? You can be prepared to deal with the effects of the weather and other factors – make sure you have your migraine medications on hand and drink extra water. You can stay indoors where the temperature is regulated. You can buy a dehumidifier to use in the summer and an air humidifier in the winter to treat your living and/or working space if you find you are sensitive to these things. You can avoid sudden temperature changes, like running your errands in the coolest or warmest parts of the day so that the temperature changes are not as drastic.


Sensory Stimuli

A sub-category of Environmental changes would be sensory stimuli. Think bright lights, inadequate lighting, and loud sounds. These can all affect how your body, particularly your brain, functions. There are many things that can assault your senses. Anything that affects your eyesight, like making sure the prescription of your glasses is up to date, movie theaters, computer screens, and sunlight. Loud sounds or straining to hear faint sounds over a period of time can also bring on the attack. Some of the factors to take into consideration are

  • bright sunlight
  • flashing light including the sun peeking through the trees while driving
  • loud sounds that last more than a few moments
  • brightness settings on the computer and smartphone screens
  • perfumes
  • paint
  • paint thinner
  • cleaning fluids
  • bleach
  • ammonia
  • smoke from fires and fireplaces
  • Second-hand smoke
  • smoking cigarettes, pipes or cigars
  • smog
  • pollen
  • pet hair and dander
  • other airborne allergens

Be creative when trying to avoid these triggers. You might, for example, telecommute if you know your office or the Foareas around your office are going to be painted or meet a friend at a nearby coffee shop or restaurant rather than going to their house if they have pets and pet hair or pet dander aggravates your migraine headaches attacks. Other things are easier to handle, like wearing sunglasses on a sunny day or adjusting the settings for screen brightness on your computers and smartphones. Obviously, there will be times when you cannot avoid environmental triggers. Being aware of your surrounding and keeping up with weather and pollen counts, even air quality forecasts will allow you to be prepared for a migraine headache attack.

Food Triggers

Probably the hardest triggers to identify will be foods and food additives, but knowing what foods and food additives are possible triggers. These days many of us rely on foods that are at least partially processed and some foods food substances like tannins, nitrates, sulfides and amino acids like tyrine and phentylethylamin all of which can trigger your migraine headache attacks. Even leftovers, which tyrine builds up in, can be triggers. It is impossible to avoid them all.

Knowing which foods and food additives to avoid can help you determine what triggers you have. Keep in mind that just because a food is a common trigger among migraine sufferers, it doesn’t mean that those foods trigger your migraine. I have compiled a list of common food, food additives that may be culprits. They are:

  • Ripened cheeses like cheddar, Parmesan, blue cheese, brie, and camembert
  • Marinated meats can build up thyrine and contain kinds of vinegar and additives
  • Fermented foods
  • Nitrates like in bacon, hot dogs, pepperoni, sausage, corned beef and jerky
  • MSG (monosodium glutamate) in things like soy, meat tenderizers, and seasoning salts
  • Sour Cream
  • Nuts
  • Sourdough bread
  • Broad beans like Lima, fava beans, and snow peas
  • Red Plums
  • Papayas
  • Dried Fruits like figs, raisins, and apricots contain sulfides
  • Avocados
  • Chocolate (Yes, Chocolate!) contain caffeine and phentylathylamin
  • Citrus fruit contain phentylathylamin
  • Tannins found in tea, red apples, pears, apple juice, cider, red wine, dark grapes
  • Yeast extract
  • autolyzed yeast
  • hydrolyzed yeast
  • Additives include hydrolyzed vegetable protein (HVP), hydrolyzed plant protein (HPP) and sodium caseinate
  • Artificial sweeteners like aspartame, Equal and Nutra Sweet
  • Combu – a Japanese food
  • Alcohol, particularly red wine (which also contains tannins, sulfides and phenylathylamine), beer, sherry, and vermouth though all alcohol contains tyramine and can be dehydrating
  • Drinks containing caffeine like coffee, tea, and soda

In some cases, you may need to completely avoid the food or foods containing an amino acid or additive that triggers your migraine headache attacks. Other foods simply have to be consumed in moderation. Take caffeine, for example. Drinking caffeine can stop a migraine in its tracks for some people while others may need to avoid more than two cups of it or avoid it completely.

What works for one person, does not necessarily work for another. In time, you will be able to determine which food you are sensitive to and which ones are okay to eat. I highly suggest that you remove all suspected food triggers them slowly reintroduce it to see what works for you.

While on the topic of food I would like to discuss how eating habits can affect your migraine headaches. When you skip meals or let yourself go hungry for any period of time, you may very well find yourself suffering. It is important not only to eat the correct foods but to eat on a regular basis. Many migraine sufferers find eating five or six small meals is better for them than eating three large meals a day. Others find that eating a snack between breakfast and lunch, lunch and dinner, and/or between dinner and bedtime helps them. Again you will have to experiment to see what is right for you.

Overeating and gaining a lot of weight can have the same effect. In fact obesity itself is a migraine trigger. If you are overweight, you may want to try a diet and exercise program. Whatever the case may be, it is always smart to eat fresh fruits, vegetable, and meats that are fresh not processed. For example, buying nitrate free meats.

Physical Factors

There are physical factors which may trigger migraine. Any strenuous activity which causes the blood vessels in your body to dilate can bring on the attacks. This includes sexual activity. (I know. I know. First chocolate, then alcohol and now sex!) It may be sad, but it is true. You may just have to plan to manage that migraine attack you will have after Valentine’s Day.

Inactivity may also trigger migraines. You don’t have to be hitting the gym all the time, but taking a walk and not standing or sitting for too long may help. In fact, working out too strenuously can trigger migraines. This brings us back around to maintaining a healthy weight and eating habits. Everything is connected.

Other physical factors that can trigger you migraine headache attacks include your general health and well-being. Factors such as allergies, a poor immune system, and infections can negatively affect you The same is true for any other illnesses that you may have like high blood pressure or heart disease. You’ll want to make sure you are staying on top of your health.

Factors that affect your health may also include menstrual cycle if you’re a woman. Many women experience migraine attacks during certain days in their menstrual cycle due to the effects of estrogen on the body. It is common for migraine headache attacks to occur when estrogen increases.

Dehydration, even slight dehydration, can set off the pain. You should make sure that you drink plenty of water (8 to 10 glasses of water daily, and if you are going to be drinking alcoholic beverages, you may want to alternate water with your drinks. On the other hand, drinking too much water (without the alcohol) can cause many serious health issues.

Staying healthy is a balancing act. If you stay on top of it, eat right and exercise and take any prescribed medications at the same times every day as prescribed, you should not have any issues that could act as a trigger. If you are not certain what time of day to take your medication, you should ask the prescribing doctor.


A physical factor that warrants discussing further is sleep. Are you getting enough or too much? Are you getting good quality sleep? If the answer to any of these is, “No!” then you may have found another migraine trigger for you.

Studies have found that good, quality sleep can help us avoid any number of woes and it might seem logical that the more you get, the better off you are. Not so! In fact, sleeping in or oversleeping can trigger migraine headache attacks. Too much of a good thing is just that: TOO MUCH.

A lot of migraine sufferers find they have “weekend migraines and wonder why. It could be a propensity to drink too much, but just as often it is the change in our sleep patterns over the weekends. We stay up late and sleep in, causing stress on our bodies.

Our bodies renew, refresh and heal themselves while we sleep, but if we sleep too much our bodies begin to break down…the chemicals that help us to renew and rebuild continue to grow to excess, breaking down healthy tissues and we find ourselves in pain. There are times when we need extra sleep, like when we’ve over-exercised or have been sick, but overdoing carries a price. When you suffer from migraine headache attack, the price is pain.

On the other hand, not getting enough sleep or suffering from insomnia (not being able to fall asleep or stay asleep) cuts thee processes short, not allowing enough time for our bodies to right themselves. If you suffer from insomnia or find that you never feel rested, I urge you to talk to your doctor right away.

Make sure you go to bed at the same time and get up at the same time every night and get a good quality of sleep. Doing this, even the worst insomniac find they are falling to sleep earlier and waking more rested than ever.


Another migraine headache trigger is stress. What is stress?. We all know that stress places a strain on our bodies. One of the things that stress can do is to trigger migraine headaches, but just what is stress? Stress is a lot of things. It can be physical or emotional. We’ve already discussed a lot of stressors..a body’s reaction to foods for example. In fact, all the things we’ve discussed are stressors.

Stress can be the reaction to environmental factors, the body’s reactions to some foods and food additives. Hunger and physical exertion stress your body. So can illness or injury, like concussions. And a lack of sleep or disturbance of the sleep cycle can certainly stress us out. But we haven’t discussed how our emotional stress can affect our migraines.

Emotional stress can be both good, like a new boyfriend/girlfriend, a new baby, seeing a friend that you haven’t seen in a while or a much-deserved vacation, and bad, like the loss of a loved one, the loss of a relationship, the loss of a job, depression or anxiety of a meeting at work. Friends and family cause us stress as do things at work like a well-deserved promotion.

You can’t go through life not experiencing everything, but we can learn to manage the emotions that life throws at us. Some of the ways include things we have already discussed the importance of physical activity such as walking, running or working out at the gym. But we haven’t mentioned things like seeing a counselor for things that overwhelm us and depression. When you are emotionally overwhelmed or depressed, your brain released chemicals such as serotonin and norepinephrine, which in turn trigger migraine headache attacks. Talking to a therapist, counselor or even a clergy member or friend helps us keep our emotions in check, therefore keeping the release of these brain chemicals in check.

When this does not help, we may need to talk to a doctor about depression or anxiety. There are many medications to control depression and anxiety, such as Selective Serotonin Uptake Inhibitors (SSRIs), Selective Norepinephrine Reuptake Inhibitors (SNRIs) and diazepams such as Valium, Ativan and Xanax.

They can not only improve our moods but may also help us avoid migraine attacks. When used in conjunction with a good support system including friends, family or Therapists and counselors, they can be quite effective. It is important to work closely with your doctor when employing the use of medications, though, as overuse of them can also lead to migraines.

The Wrap Up

Finding what triggers migraine headaches for you and working to avoid or at least manage them is a balancing act…eating and exercising enough while avoiding overeating, weight gain, and strenuous activity, getting enough, yet not too much sleep; and avoiding environmental triggers while getting the fresh air we need and enjoying all life has to offer. It can be a daunting task to figure what triggers migraine headaches. If you take a careful approach and make improvements as you go along, most of you will find that controlling migraine headache attacks rewarding as they can improve your quality of life.

Unfortunately for some of you, finding migraine triggers will be elusive. I wish I could tell you that it is an easy and precise thing to do. I cannot. But finding your triggers and sharing what you are doing towards this end will help you and your doctors find treatments that will be effective for you. I wish you the best of luck!

Join us again as we discuss more on migraine headache attacks such as treatment options and other measures you can take to stop or alleviate your migraine suffering.

You can continue the conversation. Just leave your questions and thoughts in the comment section below!




Spread the Word!