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Tips for Avoiding Migraine Triggers

Many everyday things can trigger (cause) a migraine headache. Depending on your sensitivity, it might be red wine, caffeine withdrawal, emotional stress, or skipped meals.

To take control of migraines, you must understand your migraine pattern. The first step is tracking your migraines by using a headache diary. Make notes of activities before -- or when -- a migraine occurred. What were you eating? What were you doing? How much sleep did you get the night before? Did anything stressful or important happen that day?

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Migraine Triggers: Your Personal Checklist

Migraine triggers can include foods, beverages, activities and exercise, medications, stress, sleep deprivation, hunger, odors, hormones, and other changes. To help determine what triggers your migraines, print the list below. Then check the list for potential migraine triggers when you get the first signs of an attack. After a few weeks or months, review the checklist to see if you can find a pattern for your migraine triggers. While triggers can be tricky to determine, chances are that the items...

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Many people are sensitive to the same things, shown in the lists below.

Common Migraine Triggers

Some common migraine triggers can include:

  • Emotional stress
  • Menstrual periods
  • Changes in normal sleep pattern
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Specific foods and beverages
  • Excess caffeine intake or withdrawal
  • Skipping meals; fasting
  • Changing weather conditions
  • Exercise
  • Smoking
  • Bright and flickering lights
  • Odors

 

Foods Additives and Chemicals That Can Trigger Migraines

Natural chemicals in foods, food additives, and beverages can also trigger migraines.

These include:

  • Tyramine, a substance found naturally in aged cheeses, and also found in red wine, alcoholic drinks, and some processed meats
  • Food additives/preservatives such as nitrates and nitrites found in hot dogs, ham, sausage and other processed or cured meats, salads in salad bars
  • Monosodium glutamate (MSG)
  • Alcohol -- specifically the impurities in alcohol or by-products your body produces as it metabolizes alcohol

 

Other Common Food or Beverage Migraine Triggers:

Some specific foods and drinks are migraine triggers for some people. They include:

  • Aged cheeses: blue cheese, mozzarella, feta, cheddar, parmesan
  • Alcohol: red wine, beer, whiskey, champagne
  • Caffeine: coffee, chocolate, tea, colas, sodas
  • Pepperoni, hot dogs, luncheon meats
  • Bread and other baked goods
  • Dried fruits
  • Smoked or dried fish
  • Potato chips
  • Pizza, peanuts, chicken livers, and other specific foods

 

To Avoid Your Migraine Triggers

For people susceptible to migraine triggers, the best way to prevent a headache is to avoid the triggers. Follow these tips:

  • Watch what you eat and drink. If you get a headache, write down any food or drink you had before getting it. If you see a pattern over time, eliminate that item!
  • Eat regularly. Skipping meals can trigger migraines in some people.
  • Curb the caffeine. Excess caffeine (in any food or drink) can cause migraines. But be careful: Cutting back abruptly may also cause migraines.
  • Be careful with exercise. Although doctors advise getting regular exercise to stay healthy, exercise can trigger headaches. You may need to take an anti-inflammatory drug to prevent exercise migraines.
  • Get regular sleep. Changes in your normal sleep habits can cause migraines. Being overly tired can also trigger migraines.
  • Learn to cope with stress. Emotional upsets and stressful events are common migraine triggers. Anxiety, worry, fatigue, and excitement can intensify a migraine's severity. Learn to cope with stress better -- through counseling, biofeedback, relaxation training, and possibly taking an antidepressant.

If you have questions about these migraine triggers, talk to your doctor. By taking steps to avoid your triggers, you can take control of your headaches -- and your life.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by David T. Derrer, MD on March 21, 2014
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