The Riskiness of Stacking Triggers

Until I went to an incredible complementary care doctor a few years ago, I never gave much thought to the idea of stacking triggers—in fact, I’d never heard the term. Either it’s become more common in the last year or two or I was tuned out to it beforehand.

I loved the way my doctor described it. Using hand gestures, he indicated to me how full he wanted my reservoir to be. By exercising regularly, eating healthily, taking vitamins, keeping stress as low as possible (and/or responding rather than reacting to it), and taking care of my mental health, I would fill my personal reservoir to the brim. With a full reservoir, one might be able to encounter a tried-and-true trigger—say, sugar substitute or fluorescent lighting for hours—without actually having a migraine attack set in. That trigger just took a little bit out of your reservoir but did not deplete it to the migraine threshold.

But combine or stack lots of triggers at once and the migraine will be less easy to evade. Skipping meals and not sleeping well during the week depletes your health reservoir to the point that even one mild trigger of yours—say, having aged meats or cheeses, or drinking just one glass of wine—can spin you into migraine hell. Often it’s not any one trigger that has spurred a particular migraine, it’s a so-called perfect storm, a stack of triggers combined together.

So this is why it’s important for us to take it easy. Women are especially encouraged to avoid stacking triggers during certain times of the month. If you are susceptible to menstrual-related migraine, it’s especially important that prior to, during, and shortly after your period you take it easy and limit your exposure to your personal triggers as best you can.

Have you ever noticed this phenomenon? If so, do you have a term for it? Have you had a certain food or situation trigger a migraine one month but be fine the next?

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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.

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