According to the American Headache Society, migraine headaches affect nearly one in five women, one in 12 children and one in 17 men. Most migraine patients are able to identify certain factors that can trigger the onset of a migraine. These triggers can be different from one person to the next and may not always be associated with a migraine, though frequently precipitate an attack. There are some notable common triggers that patients with migraines often describe as being problematic.
Food Triggers for Migraines
Unfortunately, red wine and chocolate are two of the most commonly cited foods that trigger migraine headaches. People with migraines may also have problems with food additives such as monosodium glutamate (MSG) and artificial sweeteners like Nutrasweet, which contains aspartame. Though caffeine is often included in medications to treat migraine like Excedrin Migraine, some people also find it can initiate the headaches.
Tyramine is a substance that accumulates in some aged foods due to the breakdown of the amino acid, tyrosine. It’s common in aged meats like pepperoni and salami and cheeses such as cheddar, brie and mozzarella. The National Headache Foundation has developed a helpful low tyramine diet resource with lists of foods containing tyramine and guidelines on dietary migraine control.
Many patients also note that skipping a meal or having low blood sugar can also precipitate a migraine.
Physical and Environmental Migraine Triggers
Approximately 72% of women with migraines report a relationship between migraines and their menstrual cycles. This may be due to changes in estrogen levels and can also occur with birth control pills. Too much or too little sleep also can trigger a migraine in susceptible individuals. Over-exercising causes migraines in some patients as well. Stress is also a huge factor contributing to migraines in about 77% of headache patients, according to Dr. John Rothrock. This can be good stress, bad stress or the feeling that occurs once the stressor is over.
Weather changes can set off migraines in some patients. Extreme temperatures or fluctuations in barometric pressure are often blamed. Sensitivity to light or odors can also cause migraines. Perfumes and other chemical smells may trigger migraines, along with flashing lights.
Headache Diary to Track Migraine Triggers
Migraineurs are recommended to keep a headache diary to help identify specific things that may initiate their migraines. Noting the time of day, timing of meals, environment, emotional state and overall situation may be helpful in pinpointing specific triggers for migraine patients to avoid.