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Migraine Triggers May Not Always Trigger Migraines

An Unnecessary Burden

The researchers conclude that exercise may be a real trigger of migraine with aura, at least among a small percentage of people, but they don’t know exactly why. What clinicians do know is that too many people may be scared to exercise, which can have unhealthy consequences.

“I can’t tell you how many of my patients say they won’t exercise because they think they’ll get headaches,” says neurologist Jason Rosenberg, MD, director of the Johns Hopkins Headache Center in Baltimore. He reviewed the study for WebMD.

Rosenberg says that many people with migraines obsessively avoid certain foods, wear sunglasses indoors and outside, and engage in other burdensome, socially isolating behaviors.

“And once they decide what their triggers are," he says, "it is very difficult to change their minds.”

The study authors, who did not respond to requests for comment, advise people to keep track of their headaches and whether avoiding certain triggers really makes a difference. If three months pass with no change in frequency, they write, it’s likely safe to say that what they are avoiding is not a trigger after all.

While this study looked at only two potential triggers, it helps to “poke holes in urban legends in medicine,” says Rosenberg.

“Avoiding exercise, sunlight exposure, and foods that are supposed to trigger migraines: None of these things have actually been tested,” he says. “Studies like this will help me nudge patients in the right direction.”

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