Migraine Headache Triggers That You Need to Know

Woman hasn't discovered her migraine headache triggers yetAnyone who struggles with migraines knows how awful they can be. The crippling pain, feelings of helplessness and days spent in bed are frustrating. Why do these horrible headaches happen?

The exact cause of migraine headaches is not yet fully understood. But the good thing is that doctors and healthcare providers have identified several migraine headache triggers.

If you suffer from frequent migraines, it’s important to try and figure out what triggers your symptoms. You might experience some of these triggers but not others. Keeping a “headache journal” can be extremely beneficial. Identifying your triggers will allow you to more effectively avoid them.

Ready to pinpoint your migraine headache triggers? Let’s get started!

Food/Drink Migraine Headache Triggers


Migraine headache clinical trials shows that skipping meals is linked to onset of symptoms. It is likely related to the falling of your blood glucose levels. Migraine patients should avoid skipping meals. Eating healthy foods in the correct amount has many health benefits. Getting less migraines is one of them.


Similarly, not drinking enough water has been strongly linked to getting headaches. In a recent survey, a full forty percent of responders said that “insufficient fluid intake” was linked to their headaches. Water is extremely important to your overall health. Do yourself (and your head!) a favor by staying hydrated.

Dehydration is a common migraine headache trigger

Food Additives

The jury is still out when it comes to the flavor enhancers aspartame and monosodium glutamate, or MSG. Aspartame experiments have yielded conflicting results, but scientists have found some evidence that if you have clinical depression, your symptoms might worsen after consuming aspartame.

When it comes to MSG, different studies have found different results. Many have failed to scientifically link MSG and headaches. However a new study did find a positive correlation between MSG and headache pain– not only in your head but also in your face. So even though the findings of MSG studies have been conflicting, it it might be safest to steer clear of it.

Caffeinated Drinks

If you suffer from migraine headaches, it’s wise to limit your consumption of caffeine. Many experts have found a link between excessive caffeine and migraines. That being said, caffeine withdrawal can also trigger a headache.

Energy drinks can have extremely high levels of caffeine. Other caffeinated beverages include coffee, soft drinks and most teas. Also keep in mind that caffeine doesn’t have to come in the form of a drink.

Many over-the-counter headache medications also contain caffeine. These medicines can be effective though! A recent study found that a drug made with acetaminophen, aspirin and caffeine was better at relieving migraines than just ibuprofen by itself.


This is one of the most commonly reported triggers for migraines. In a Brazilian clinical study, one third of migraine patients reported that alcohol was a trigger for them. Some more details of the study include the following:

  • Red wine was worse than other types of alcohol
  • Red wine triggered a migraine in 19.5% of patients
  • Men and women had different results
  • Red wine triggered migraines in 22% of women
  • Red wine triggered migraines in only 8% of men
  • White wine triggered a migraine in only 10.5% of migraine patients

Lifestyle and Body Migraine Headache Triggers


A majority of migraine sufferers in this Danish clinical study reported that stress can bring on one of those dreaded headaches. Other studies have reported than from anywhere between 50 and 80 percent of people with migraines claim stress as a trigger. Some people get the migraines while the stressful event is occurring and some get it in the emotional wake afterwards.

Woman develops a migraine after a stressful day


Rigorous exercise may unfortunately trigger severe headache symptoms.  Migraine clinical research found that 38% of migraine sufferers had experienced one in conjunction with exercise. A lot of them said the migraine started with neck pain. Some found that low-intensity training was better than high intensity training in terms of their migraines.

Lack of Sleep

No one likes to be underslept! This is especially true for people who suffer from migraines, since insufficient sleep is a major migraine trigger. Things like jet lag or long hours at work can be linked to migraine headaches. Unfortunately people with chronic migraines who also suffer from insomnia have a higher risk of anxiety or depression.

Medication Overuse

This is a common but unexpected factor. Sometimes migraine patients who overuse common analgesics can be likelier to go from occasional migraines to chronic migraines. It has not yet been discovered why this is. But analgesic rebound headaches definitely exist for a lot of people, so it’s important to keep in mind. Overuse of drugs in the opioid class is also very likely to be associated with developing chronic migraine.


Unfortunately for women, some evidence shows that female sex hormone fluctuations can play a role in getting a migraine. Over half of patients in a recent study said that theirs worsened during menstruation. A small group of these women said they got migraines only during their period. Some also said pregnancy was a migraine trigger. For some women, their migraines lessen or become less severe after they go through menopause.

Environmental Migraine Headache Triggers

Strong or Unusual Smells

This is a frequently reported migraine trigger. Perfume is one of the most commonly cited culprits. Also approximately half of migraine patients say they become intolerant to smells during their actual attacks. This is called “osmophobia” and is unique to people who suffer from migraine headaches. Some of the smells that can trigger migraines or become intolerable during an attack include:

  • Cigarette smoke
  • Food smells
  • Scents like perfume or air freshener

Loud Sounds and Bright Lights

Brief exposure to sunlight actually triggers migraines in some patients. You can avoid this by:

  • Wearing a hat
  • Wearing sunglasses
  • Avoiding sunny places
  • Getting more sleep

Man try to treat his migraine headache

However a study featured in European Neurology showed that sunlight may only be a secondary migraine headache trigger. The article said that sunlight may only be a trigger if the person:

  • Drank wine last night
  • Has become dehydrated
  • Is hungry or has low blood sugar

While sunlight may only be secondary, but it is still something to be wary of. In addition, loud sounds and bright and/or flickering lights have also been reported to trigger migraines symptoms.

Changes in Weather

This one may be especially frustrating, since no one can control the weather. Weather-related migraine triggers in a Brazilian study of teen migraine patients included:

  • Hot weather
  • Cold weather
  • Sunny and clear weather
  • Changing weather

A different study of women in the Midwest found that thunderstorms could be a migraine headache trigger too.

Migraines feel terrible and are frustrating to live with. But knowing your triggers is the first step in being proactive. Here are some great ways to prevent future migraines:

  • Monitor what you eat and drink
  • Learn to manage stress
  • Get enough sleep
  • Curb the caffeine
  • Be careful about exercise
  • Drink enough water
  • Eat regularly

You just took a great first step in migraine prevention by educating yourself. Remember to direct any questions about migraine triggers to your doctor or healthcare provider.



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