Migraine triggers are unique to an individual, but common triggers include things like stress, certain foods, scented cleaning products or perfumes, and changes in barometric pressure.
A. Laine Green, MD, FRCPC, FAHS
Headache Specialist, Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center
As a headache specialist, I often discuss migraine triggers — or factors that contribute to migraine attacks — with my patients. Triggers are unique to an individual, but common triggers include things like stress, certain foods, scented cleaning products or perfumes, and changes in barometric pressure.
One way to think about triggers is that migraine has a threshold, and how close a person is to that threshold at any given time determines how frequent, severe, and debilitating an attack will be. Someone living with migraine is already at an elevated threshold, meaning they are more likely to have an attack than someone without migraine. While factors like stress or poor sleep might push someone living with migraine over the threshold, they were already predisposed to an attack.
We often tell patients that identifying their triggers is an important part of managing migraine and avoiding future attacks. Some triggers can be avoided by practicing what healthcare professionals would describe as healthy habits. For example, staying hydrated, keeping a consistent sleep schedule, eating regular and healthy meals, and practicing stress management can all help decrease the frequency and severity of migraine attacks.
What if you practice healthy habits and avoid your known triggers, but still have an attack? Remember, migraine is a genetic chronic neurological disease and it is not your fault. Additionally, some, if not most, migraine attacks are spontaneous, meaning that there is often nothing you can do to change the outcome. Those days require patience, self-care, and the reminder that it will pass.
While you should feel empowered to make lifestyle changes to help reduce migraine frequency and severity, it’s important to remember that attacks can occur even when you’re following your migraine management plan perfectly. You are doing the best you can and that is what matters most.