What Sets Me Off: Migraine Triggers
By Heather—January 4, 2013

trig·ger noun \ˈtri-gər\ :something that acts like a mechanical trigger in initiating a process or reaction

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The path that I have taken through my journey of migraines started at the early age of 12. I experienced extreme pain, nausea and inability to tolerate light and sound. I remember my sympathetic parents trying to do everything they could to help me at the time from medicine to warm and cool compresses and even just trying to let me sleep. When we finally went to my family physician I was introduced to a new life-long struggle. Triggers. He explained to me that sometimes things that I was surrounded by would cause my neurological system to become oversensitive to what other people consider normal and react in a way that would cause my migraines. The first and most common that we identified were food triggers. Also common were environmental such as smells, sounds or sights. I have found that as I have grown I have fine tuned my triggers and identified what makes me more venerable to migraine attacks.
Foods are the majority of what I would consider my triggers. I practice high to complete avoidance of these triggers especially if they are combined with other triggers or high stress events. Some of the foods I would consider high avoidance would be caffeine, chocolate, nitrates, nitrites (often found in lunchmeats or processed meats), and artificial sweeteners (like splenda). I also keep a watchful eye on other food triggers such as bananas, lemons, MSG, sodium, or excess in sugars.
Another type of trigger that I struggle with is environmental. What surrounds me often is out of my control, and therefore I cannot avoid it, but things that tend to cause me problems are strong odors such as perfumes (bath and body works is a wonderful example of somewhere I love, but I can only be in a small amount of time before I feel ill), cleaning solutions, paint, nail polish, or hairsprays. I am careful to select my own products in a way that will not bother me and cause migraines.
Loud noises are also something that I try to avoid. I have to be careful in restaurants with loud music, or concerts. I find myself to get painless migraine symptoms of confusion, or aphasia. I have found that wearing foam ear plugs helps as long as the people around me know that I am wearing them for the reason of migraines — and as long as the lights or other reasons don’t or won’t trigger a migraine. That being said, flashing lights, brights on car headlights, strobe lights, and florescent lights will also tend to trigger migraines. I can stand florescent lights to an extent, but I try to avoid them as much as possible.
When I talk to other people about my triggers they often will recall triggers that friends of family have. Other common triggers I hear about include dairy products, spicy foods, or computer usage. Each person has their own set of triggers that their body can or cannot handle — and that being said it can be a long journey to discover what those things are. I have spent a lot of time journaling my migraines, my emotions, medications, activities, surroundings, and diet through my migraine journey. I feel that there are still many triggers out there that I am not aware of — but for the most part I have identified many of my major triggers.
To the community — what have you done to identify your triggers? What can I do to identify what else might be causing my migraines? Are there other “Big” triggers out there that are known of?
Stories posted on Migraine.com solely represent the personal points of view, experiences and opinions of their authors.
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