Body & Fitness

Six things that can trigger migraines

oigraines are horrible, hideous things and although medication to treat them can be effective, doctors don't know how to stop them from happening in the first place. However, there are some factors that may trigger migraines, and if you know what brings yours on, you may be able to take steps to avoid them.

Your hormones

Around 60% of women who get migraines notice that they coincide with their periods, with a migraine often coming on just before their period starts or on the first couple of days of their cycle. It’s thought this is due to fluctuations in the hormone oestrogen – levels drop just before the start of your period.

What you can do: Painkillers called nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs taken two days before your period isdue can reduce the chance of a migraine. Hormonal medications like oral contraceptives or hormone replacement therapy can help some women, but may make migraines worse in others.

Being stressed

Stress is blamed for a wide range of health issues, and migraines are no exception. Although research suggests it doesn’t actually cause migraines, being stressed can make some people more vulnerable to them. one study found that it’s everyday stresses, such as juggling work with family life or worrying about money, that can trigger migraines, rather than one-off, major events.**


What you can do: Work out how to deal with whatever is making you uptight so it doesn’t stress you out. Having a massage to make muscles less tense, or practising relaxation techniques such as deep breathing or meditation, may help.

Weather changes

Studies show that as many as 50% of migraines may be weather related. Weather triggers include bright sunlight, hot or cold temperatures, high humidity, dry air, windy or stormy weather and changes in barometric pressure.

What you can do: Unfortunately, the weather is out of our control, but regularly checking out the forecast and taking migraine medication at the first sign of a weather pattern that may trigger your migraine may help.

Sleep patterns

Not getting enough sleep can lead to a migraine. Suffering disturbed sleep can also be a factor. However, getting too much sleep is not good for you either – it can trigger severe head pain. oany migraine sufferers report waking up with a pounding head if they have a long sleep-in at the weekend.

What to do: Try to keep your sleep patterns consistent. Go to bed at the same time every night and aimfor seven to eight hours sleep. At weekends, set your alarm so you don’t sleep in for more than an hour longer than normal.

Bright lights

Bright lights and other high-intensity visual stimuli can affect people prone to migraines. Not only can flashing or strobe lights cause problems, but so can especially bright sunlight and even watching TV in a darkened room. other sensory factors that may also bring on migraines include loud noises and strong smells – in particular, paint, chemicals or perfume.

What to do: Take precautionary measures such as getting away from sensory stimuli like flashing lights or powerful smells. Avoid noisy places and wear sunglasses when you’re out in bright sunshine.


Studies into whether eating chocolate can bring on migraines have had mixed results, with many being inconclusive and others finding that only a small percentage of people noticed a link between the two. However,there is evidence that chocolate may trigger head pain and some scientists believe this is because it contains the amino acid tyramine, which can lead to headaches. Aged cheese also contains tyramine and has been linked to migraines.

What to do: Pay attention to your eating habits to work out if you get migraines after eating chocolate. Ifyou suspect a link, cut it out. Women who are prone to menstrual migraines should avoid chocolate in the days leading up to their period.

other foods that may trigger migraines include:

  • Fermented food like vinegar, soy sauce, yoghurt, miso and sauerkraut.

  • Smoked or cured foods, like salami.

  • Pickled food, like gherkins.

  • Yeast extracts.

  • Foods containing oSG (monosodium glutamate) like some Chinese takeaways and seasonings.

  • oranges.

  • Salty foods.

other possible triggers include:

  • Alcohol.

  • Too much exercise.

  • Hunger or dehydration.

  • Eating lots of sugary foods.

How to recognise your triggers:

For some people it’s obvious what sets off a migraine – for example, just a couple of hours after eating cheese, they’ll be heading for a dark room to lie down. But for others, it’s not so cut and dried. one way of trying to work out what’s causing your migraines is to keep a detailed diary. List what you eat, how much sleepyou get, where you’re at in your menstrual cycle, what the weather’s like, how much you exercise and what you’ve had to drink. Then record when migraine symptoms start, and whether there is a potential link.

You know it’s a migraine because:

  • You have an intense throbbing pain in your head, often on one side.

  • You feel nauseous or you vomit.

  • Your vision is blurred or you have blind spots.

  • You may see flashing lights or colours.

  • You can’t cope with light, noise or smells.

  • You feel exhausted.

  • You’re confused and have trouble communicating.

  • You’re light-headed.

Did you know:

  • Famous migraine sufferers include Elle oacpherson, Elizabeth Taylor, Elvis Presley and Vincent van Gogh.

  • Women are three times more likely than men to get migraines.

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