Skip to Accessibility Tools Skip to Content Skip to Footer

Migraine with Aura Triggers May Be Less Impactful Than Thought

According to a small study published in the journal Neurology, some triggers associated with migraine with aura may not be as strong as we’ve been lead to believe.

Some of the triggers most commonly thought to be associated with migraine with aura are things that, if avoided, can be detrimental to other aspects of a migraineur’s health, such as exercise. For this reason these researchers set out to determine if our beliefs about common triggers such as exercise and bright or flickering light lead to migraine attacks among people living with migraine with aura as frequently as thought.

migraine-triggers-exercise-lightTo gather information the researchers recruited 27 people living with migraine with aura and exposed them to both triggers. To address the exercise issue, patients were either asked to complete an intense run or ride an exercise bike for one hour. Additionally, the study participants were exposed to bright, flickering light for 30 to 40 minutes.

The study found that 11 percent of participants experienced migraine with aura after exposure to exercise or light. Another 11 percent experienced migraine without aura after exposure to exercise or light. No study participants experienced migraine with aura after the light exposure alone.

In an editorial in Neurology that accompanied the study write up, headache disorders expert Peter Goadsby of the University of California, San Francisco, said this research indicates these two triggers may be behavior-driven responses rather than triggers. In other words, it is possible that migraineurs feel compelled to exercise at an early phase of the migraine attack and that the presumption that light is a trigger is actually simply the well-recognized sensitivity to light (photophobia) that occurs during a migraine attack.

This particular study did not examine other common migraine triggers such as food or drinks, weather changes, exposure to intense heat, crying, dehydration, odors, inconsistency in one’s schedule, etc.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

“Migraine Triggers May Not Be As Strong As You Think,” American Academy of Neurology press release, January 23, 2013,, accessed January 18, 2013.


  • Luna
    3 years ago

    Any serious study would have more than 27 subjects.

  • Ellen Schnakenberg
    7 years ago

    I guess I had mixed emotions about this study. For me, a trigger is still a trigger even though it won’t necessarily trigger me every time. Often its the combination of things that sets me off. The patterned light is a biggie though, so this was surprising to me. I do agree that it also causes a lot of pain, but pain is different than triggering an aura that forces me to pull over to the side of the road to wait it out.

    Very interesting. It will be even more interesting to see what they do with this information!

  • Diana-Lee author
    7 years ago

    Oh, and regarding the stacking of triggers issue, I wish there was a better way to include that as a consideration in research about triggers, but I’m not sure what it would be.

  • Diana-Lee author
    7 years ago

    Absolutely. And honestly, with just 27 study subjects it’s hard to draw any broad conclusions from their findings, I think,

  • Poll