With migraine, one of the best things you can do is learn your personal triggers that bring on the pain. Red wine, caffeine withdrawal, stress, and skipped meals are among the common culprits.
The first step is to track your migraine symptoms in a diary. Note what you were doing before and when your headache came on. What were you eating? How much sleep did you get the night before? Did anything stressful or important happen that day? These are key clues.
Learn Your Triggers
When you look at your diary, you might find that these things tend to lead to a migraine:
- Menstrual periods
- Changes in your normal sleep pattern
- Extreme fatigue
- Certain foods and drinks
- Too much caffeine or withdrawal from it
- Skipping meals or fasting
- Changes in the weather
- Bright, flickering lights
- Certain smells
7 Steps to Avoid Your Triggers
- Watch what you eat and drink. If you get a headache, write down the foods and drinks you had before it started. If you see a pattern over time, stay away from that item.
- Eat regularly. Don't skip meals.
- Curb the caffeine. Too much, in any food or drink, can cause migraines. But cutting back suddenly may also cause them. So try to slowly ease off caffeine if it seems to be one of your headache triggers.
- Be careful with exercise. Everyone needs regular physical activity. It's a key part of being healthy. But it can trigger headaches for some people. If you're one of them, you can still work out. Ask your doctor what would help.
- Get regular shut-eye. If your sleep habits get thrown off, or if you're very tired, that can make a migraine more likely.
- Downsize your stress. There are many ways to do it. You could exercise, meditate, pray, spend time with people you love, and do things you enjoy. If you can change some of the things that make you tense, set up a plan for that. Counseling and stress management classes are great to try, too. You can also look into biofeedback, where you learn how to influence certain things (like your heart rate and breathing) to calm down stress.
- Keep up your energy. Eat on a regular schedule, and don't let yourself get dehydrated.
What to Look for in Foods
These things are migraine triggers for some people:
- Foods that have tyramine in them, such as aged cheeses (like blue cheese or Parmesan), soy, smoked fish, and Chianti wine
- Alcohol, especially red wine
- Caffeine, which is in coffee, chocolate, tea, colas, and other sodas
- Foods made with nitrates, such as pepperoni, hot dogs, and lunchmeats
- Bread and other baked goods
- Dried fruits
- Potato chips
- Pizza, peanuts, and chicken livers
How Do Triggers Work?
An easy way to think of a trigger is like a light switch. When it's flipped on, that starts a process of activity in your brain that can end in pain and other migraine symptoms.
But it's not as simple as cause-and-effect. Something that triggers a migraine one day may not have the same effect on another. You're probably more likely to get a migraine if more than one of your triggers is present.
Triggers vary from person to person. But most are related to some kind of stress, whether it's:
- Physical, such as dehydration, sleep loss, or hormone changes
- Emotional, like anxiety
- In the environment, such as changes in the weather
Cleveland Clinic: "Migraines," "Migraine Headache Diary," "Migraines: Specific Foods," "Migraines: Exercise," "Migraines: Stress."
National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke: "NINDS Migraine Information Page."
Office of Women's Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: "Migraine Fact Sheet."
Sutter Health: "Common Migraine Headache Triggers."
National Migraine Centre: "Migraine triggers?"