Yes, Our Migraines Have Triggers

Trigger identification and management is an essential element of Migraine management. Some triggers are avoidable, some aren’t.

If we identify triggers that are avoidable, that can result in fewer Migraines, needing less medication, and an improved quality of life.

It can be difficult to identify our Migraine triggers. This leads some people to believe they have no triggers. This simply isn’t the case. Our Migraines do have triggers.

Why it can seem we don’t have triggers…

  • Sometimes, triggers can be hard to identify if someone tends to have Migraines brought on by cumulative or stackable triggers. This is when we have triggers that aren’t strong enough to precipitate a Migraine when only one is encountered, but if two or more are encountered together, their combined strength can precipitate a Migraine.
  • Exposure to some triggers can result in a Migraine up to 48 hours later. That can lead to people not recognizing those triggers.
  • Triggers can change over time. When new triggers develop, it can be easy to miss them.
  • Underlying or comorbid (occurring at the same time, but not causing each other) conditions can be triggers that we don’t recognize.

    Some examples:

    • A thyroid condition that’s not well controlled can trigger Migraines.
    • Poorly controlled diabetes can result in too high or too low glucose levels, which can trigger Migraines.
    • Some Migraineurs who can’t always identify all of their triggers find that they have idiopathic intracranial hypertension (IIH), aka pseudotumor cerebri. This condition causes the body to either produce too much cerebrospinal fluid or not absorb it properly, resulting in increased intracranial hypetension. Diagnosing IIH can be problematic because even some doctors don’t fully understand it. Some believe that papilledema (swelling of the optic nerves) must be present, and that IIH can be diagnosed with by examining the optic nerves. This is incorrect. Papilledema is not always present with IIH. The only truly definitive test for diagnosing or ruling out IIH is a lumbar puncture (spinal tap).
  • Some Migraineurs simply aren’t aware of what can be triggers. Unfortunately, some doctors never discuss triggers with their patients. I’ve lost track of how many Migraineurs have told me that their doctors never even mentioned triggers, let alone explain how important trigger identification and management is.
  • Triggers can be inconsistent. What triggers a Migraine one day may not trigger one on another day, leading us to not think of it as a trigger.

The bottom line:

Migraines DO have triggers. Even if you don’t think you have triggers, you do. Working to identify and manage them is a proactive step we can take to help ourselves. One of the most helpful tools in identifying our triggers is a Migraine diary.

More information:

For more information, see Migraine Management Essential 3: Trigger ID and Management.

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

Comments

View Comments (24)
  • Laura Ann Payton Francis
    7 years ago

    Ok Ladies and a few gentlemen. I have journaled. Here we go…artificial sweetiners, weather, lunch meat, citrus, alcohol, lack of sleep, to much sleep, to hot, to cold, excercise, stress, I am sure there are a few more. I am on meds. I just got Botox. I still have my migraines but I don’t feel them like I used to. I think it was a great choice for me.

  • Teri Robert
    7 years ago

    Laura Ann Payton Francis, glad I could remind you of something helpful. I know I can always use some reminders myself. 🙂

  • Laura Ann Payton Francis
    7 years ago

    Teri, you are So right. I stress and forget to eat. I drink lots of water. And my doc gave me sleeping pills. Great points I forgot.

  • Teri Robert
    7 years ago

    Good job tracking your triggers, Laura! I’d share one thing with you. I thought stress was a trigger for me too. Then someone did me a HUGE favor by challenging me to journal extra carefully during stressful times. Lo and behold, it turned out that I was doing and not doing things that turned out to be avoidable triggers during stressful times — skipping meals, not drinking enough and getting dehydrated, not sleeping well, and so on. Once I realized that and started watching out for those triggers during stressful times, I’ve been saved many, many Migraines.

  • Linda Castellano
    7 years ago

    For me the hidden trigger is the weather I have no clue when it is chancing I have NO control over it and when all else fails and I have an attack I always pay attention to the weather and it is amazing what control it has over my pain level-Spring seems to be the best time of year for me(I do not suffer from sinus headaches:)but then summers comes with those late day thunderstorms-LOOK OUT I am dead! I hate those days-hurricanes approaching I cannot move let alone have to evacuate my house I would need an ambulance-that bad! I could never to it on my own that is a huge fear of mine I live on the coast of South Carolina if a hurricane comes I am more afraid of the migraine than the darn storm itself-I know sounds crazy but it is true.

  • Teri Robert
    7 years ago

    Linda Castellano, weather changes are one of my worst triggers. Don’t know if it’s any encouragement to you, but as I’ve found preventives that help with other triggers, I’ve found that I’m at least somewhat resistant to weather triggers too. I still get Migraines from weather changes, but not always like I used to.

  • Dawn Barry Martin
    7 years ago

    I have had migraines for 35 years and I am 40 years old. I’ve had migraines daily for the last ten years & have been looking at everything I eat & drink & I have found that all of these chemicals are triggers: aspartame, sucralose, acesulfame potassium, sorbitol, xylitol, erythitol, maltodextrin, BHT added to cereals. I have stopped eating cereals, crackers, almost anything that comes in a box and I now can go a couple weeks w/o a migraine. Also watch out for otc medicine, even gelcaps that you swallow have artifical sugar in them! I read every label!

  • Dawn Barry Martin
    7 years ago

    ^haha Leslie – not sure if stopping to smell the flowers has ever brought on a migraine – you know i’m to busy to do that anyways! 🙂

  • Leslie Sprott
    7 years ago

    Fragrance is one of your triggers?….like roses, and lilacs, and…uh oh.

  • Dawn Barry Martin
    7 years ago

    Yes I know fragrance is a trigger for me too – especially cigarette smoke can bring on a migraine plus having asthma doesnt help.

  • Teri Robert
    7 years ago

    Leslie Sprott I hear you! It defies logic, doesn’t it? We have to become experts on reading labels. Then the labels are in tiny print. I’ve started carrying a magnifying glass in my purse. 🙂

  • Teri Robert
    7 years ago

    Sandy Niemiec Fragrances are a terrible trigger for some of us. They are for me, worse at some times than others. I always look for unscented products.

  • Sandy Niemiec
    7 years ago

    I’ve read that artificial frangrance, such as those found in deodorants, can act as a trigger for some people.

  • Leslie Sprott
    7 years ago

    Oh, swell. You take a pill to help with the migraine pain and you’re just making it worse. What I find most ridiculous is that so many items that contain real sugar also contain artificial sugar. Whatever for? Glad to hear you’re getting some pain-free days.

  • Susan Cleveland
    7 years ago

    My triggers are almost completely diet related, with a side of sleep deprivation. Check Ellen Schnakenberg’s link on MSG and please be sure to read part 2. It’s amazing all the places the food industry tries to hide these additives.

  • Janene Zielinski
    7 years ago

    So, I’ve been “off” aspartame for 4 days now. On a whim I just decided to see what would happen if I avoided aspartame for a month. Before starting this I would drink at least 64 oz. a day of Diet Coke and about 12 oz. a day of Diet Rootbeer. I’ve just been too lazy to change these bad habits. I know there is alot of “hearsay” about the effects of aspartame, but I figure it can’t hurt to drink less soda and more water. So far, the only efffects I’ve seen have been going to the bathroom less frequently and seeming more “full” and less hungry, but also craving sweets (maybe the chocolate is making up for the caffeine loss?). Nothing has changed yet with the low grade migraine I’ve been carrying around for a week – but then, I realize I’ve just started and I have also had less caffeine as a result. Has anyone else had aspartame as a trigger they could identify?

  • Andrea Kayy
    7 years ago

    I am also 100% off sucralose and aspartame. Definately has helped me and two others who have chronic pain. I am able to tolerate Stevia. As far as drinks go, I only drink lemon or lime carbonated water, Vitamin Water Zero, Crystal Light has a couple of flavors with Stevia and Safeway/Vons has a “Refreshe” soda that is lemon/lime 80 calories a can. Stevia is only good in certain things so I use regular sugar in my one cup of coffee. Interestingly enough, since I quit the two sweetners – I am down 15 pounds….who would have guessed that would happen?

  • Susan Cleveland
    7 years ago

    ANY artificial sweeteners are big triggers for me. Aspertame, Sucrolose, Saccharine, etc. Beware of maltodextrin, as well. I looked at the over the counter stevia products. Stevia is awesome, but the preparations have added artificial sweeteners along side that kill it for me.

  • Dee
    7 years ago

    I agree that some triggers can be “stackable” and then others are triggers on their own. A migraneur needs to keep making mental notes of what they are consuming and exposed to. I think I’ve perfected it now although I do have days where I’m having too much of a good time and prepare to suffer the consequences.

  • Louise M. Houle
    7 years ago

    Are there any Migraine Journal free apps one can download for a Google Nexus phone, that you can also print? Thans for your help!

  • Pen Ort
    7 years ago

    I have never had a GP or a neuro mention triggers, beyond me telling them that I never had a migraine until peri menopause. So 5 years past menopause, I guess we are still blaming hormones, because I cannot find any other triggers. Drs just hand our more drugs, they don’t seem to be interested in non drug prevention. I still have NO idea of my triggers.

  • Mary Seroski
    7 years ago

    I know I am photophobic because of fibro and migraines. Winter sun is the worst since we are closer to the sun. I wear double sunglasses but that is not enough on some days. I also seem to have frequent sinus problems which is odd since I have an autoimmune disease that should be overworking on getting rid of the bacteria/virus causing it.

  • 3B Scientific
    7 years ago

    Migraine Journal’s are a great way of analyzing medical history for this debilitating condition. Good to see the iPhone app to help with this – we’ll be sure to check it out. thanks for all the information.

  • Teri Robert
    7 years ago

    Thanks, and you’re welcome!

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