How to Avoid Migraine Triggers

BIDMC Contributor

AUGUST 21, 2019

Woman experiencing a migraine

If you’ve ever had a migraine, you know it’s different from a typical tension headache. A migraine is a type of headache that comes with its own set of symptoms like nausea, sensitivity to light, sound or smells, extreme fatigue or dizziness.

According to the Migraine Research Foundation, approximately 12% of people in the U.S. suffer from migraines, with nearly 90% of migraine sufferers having a family history of migraine. They are also more common in women than men.

“A migraine can be debilitating and can impact daily activities, your family and social life,” says neurologist Sait Ashina, MD, a headache specialist in the Comprehensive Headache Center within the Arnold-Warfield Pain Center at BIDMC. “Unfortunately, migraine often goes undiagnosed and undertreated.”

The exact cause or reason for migraines is still unknown, but what physicians can help you pinpoint are different triggers for your migraine.

“Triggers are what can set off the symptoms of a migraine headache, which is different than the mechanisms of the head pain,” Ashina says. “Triggers are usually individualized—what could bring on a migraine in one person could not be the case in another person.”

In order to determine—and subsequently avoid—migraine triggers, Ashina suggests keeping a headache diary. “Your doctor is going to want to know what you did or ate or how you felt right before a migraine attack,” he explains. “By tracking these occurrences and any details you remember ahead of time, your doctor will be able to find patterns that will guide an individualized treatment plan.”

The American Headache Society offers different resources for headache diaries. There are also a variety of mobile apps available. “List out each migraine, when it happened, how long it lasted and what could have triggered it,” Ashina says.

Some of the most common migraine triggers and remedies include:

Food and beverages
(such as chocolate, cheese, citrus fruits, processed meats, artificial sweeteners, soda, beer, wine)
Work with your doctor to alter your diet and moderate food triggers.
Caffeine Caffeine can sometimes help relieve symptoms, but high consumption can also lead to rebound headaches. Work with your doctor to alter your caffeine consumption based on your headache diary.
Fasting, dieting, dehydration Do not skip meals and drink plenty of water.
Changes to weather
(such as humidity, heat, or extreme high/low temperatures and atmospheric pressure)
Stay hydrated in extreme heat and avoid being outdoors on particularly cold or windy days.
Sleep deprivation Create and stick to a regular sleeping pattern.
Light exposure Try to avoid florescent light (common in many work areas), wear sunglasses in bright light, or try a blue light filter for digital screens.
Odor exposure
(such as perfume, cleaning products, paint products, cigarette smoke)
Avoid these triggers when possible.
Changes to hormones
(especially for women)
Your doctor may prescribe non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications or other anti-migraine medication to use before and during your menstrual cycle.

“Your headache diary will be your doctor’s best resource for avoiding any of these triggers,” Ashina says. “By controlling what you can, you may reduce the frequency and severity of your headaches.”

Learn more about the BIDMC Arnold-Warfield Pain Center and our services.

Above content provided by Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. For advice about your medical care, consult your doctor.
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