Migraine Triggers Part 2: Where Do We Go From Here?
Figuring out our individual migraine triggers can be a really challenging riddle. Life would be so much easier for us if this were simple. As with most things’ migraine, it’s complex and often confusing. It can be tempting to give up on it! However, discovering our triggers is a crucial part of learning to manage this disease better. It also helps us to understand what is going on in our bodies. That understanding helps to give us back just a little bit of the control. Control that this disease has a nasty habit of taking away.
As I wrote in part 1 of this article on triggers, they are as varied and complex as the people who live with migraine. If you haven’t already read part 1, I would definitely encourage you to do that first and then come back here. We’ll be waiting right here for you!
Migraine is like an equation
One of the challenging things we deal with is the idea that managing migraine is like an equation. It’s the concept that both sides must balance, and if we do A, B and C, then X, Y, and Z must happen. In other words, if we were to discover and deal with our triggers then VOILA! Our lives would magically get better. Now, who wouldn’t want that?! If only it were that simple.
It isn't just about triggers
Sadly, migraine is not JUST about triggers. Migraine is a complex neurological disease that is SO MUCH MORE than the attack triggers. Not only are many triggers out of our control, but we could also be doing everything “right” and continue to have migraine attacks. We still know so little about this disease that we don’t always understand why.
What's the difference between a trigger and a cause?
We know that migraine is not CAUSED by the triggers we are able to identify. There is a big difference between an attack TRIGGER and a disease CAUSE. To some, that may seem logical. Sadly, it is a difference that often gets lost in the mix. Putting all that into perspective, we can understand that figuring out our triggers doesn’t cure the disease. However, we also know that trigger management can help with disease management!
I wish I could tell you there was a foolproof system for figuring this out! What I can say is that tracking your attacks and factors that lead up to them is really important. Yes, it’s a huge pain to have to do that! Changing our lifestyle to accommodate tracking a complex disease doesn’t tend to fit naturally into our day-to-day lives.
However, this is a disease that slowly and insidiously takes away control from those who live with it. It impacts every part of our lives including education, employment, finances, friendships, marriage, and so much more. Tracking our triggers and then using that information to help manage the disease is a way that you can take back some control.
How do we track triggers?
In my dream world, there is an app that creates a daily personalized RISK FACTOR. Until that is created, we can work around trigger tracking by using other options. Here are some ideas to consider:
- Use an app such as N1-Headache to help figure out what your triggers are. After 90 days of tracking and entering information you will be given three personalized charts: triggers, protectors, and factors that have no impact.
- Use an app such as Migraine Buddy to track your attacks and obvious triggers that you already know or suspect. Then look at the individualized reports offered.
- Consider an elimination diet if you suspect food triggers. However, make sure any diet you start is done after consulting with your doctors!
- If you don’t like apps then try using a spreadsheet or table to track your migraine attacks and possible related factors.
Hint #1: Don’t try to figure it all out at once! Take your time, and don’t get overwhelmed by the process.
Hint #2: No method of trigger-tracking is perfect. Any “findings” are only suggestions rather than proofs, so test them out.
You’ve figured out your triggers, now what?
You’ve finally got it all figured out? First of all, congratulations! You deserve to get a big pat on the back for doing the necessary work to help you manage life with migraine. While your triggers may change over time, knowing what they are right now can be really helpful. Some of these you may be able to completely avoid by changing your diet or altering the way you exercise. You may be able to make affordable changes such as investing in an orthopedic pillow or weighted blanket. Your doctor may even suggest medical options. Things that help manage your hormones or other medical conditions. Anything you CAN do to minimize or remove controllable triggers helps you take back control.
Taking back even uncontrollable triggers
However, chances are there are some triggers on your list that you can’t control. Things such as barometric pressure changes or hormonal changes that can’t be managed by contraceptives. Even with these triggers, bear in mind that knowledge and understanding are power! You may be able to take back some control by adapting your schedule to help minimize trigger stacking. Your doctor may even suggest proactive treatment in certain situations. For example, some triptans can help reduce menstrual-migraine in some women.
The difference knowing your migraine triggers makes
Knowing your triggers also gives you an opportunity to find your voice. You can speak out and talk with your friends, family, and work colleagues about what is going on. You can explain to friends the difference not wearing perfume or cologne makes. You can even ask for accommodations at work or school such as scent-free environments or no fluorescent lighting. The possibilities for taking and using the information you have learned are as endless as the potential triggers you’ve plowed through! This is not the end of the journey – it is just the beginning. So, dig into it, and as you discover more about the disease you’re living with, celebrate the small steps that help make a big difference!
What about you?
We’d love to hear from you about what you’ve discovered and how it has helped you! What were the biggest obstacles in discovering your triggers? Which ones have you been able to manage by avoiding them, and which are harder for you? Finally, what is your biggest trigger, and have you found anything that helps you deal with that?
How much has your migraine disease changed or evolved over time?