As many as 37 million people in the United States have migraines, and about 5 million of them have at least one migraine per month. Although triggers do not cause people to have migraines, they can bring about an attack. Here are a few tips on understanding triggers and how to avoid them.
Both symptoms and triggers vary widely from one person to another. Writing down a detailed account of each attack helps you learn what your personal triggers are so you can avoid them. Dr. David Wu can give you tips on keeping an effective migraine journal.
Each journal entry should include:
Several food ingredients are known migraine triggers for many people. For example, aspartame, a sweetener in many foods such as diet sodas and yogurt, is a common trigger. Tyramine, monosodium glutamate, and nitrates are other frequent culprits.
In addition to ingredients, when you eat could be a migraine trigger. For some people, skipping a meal can lead to a migraine. About half of the people who get migraines find that fasting triggers headaches.
Eating a healthy diet with few processed foods — and on a regular schedule — can be helpful in avoiding migraines. Dr. Wu can provide tips on developing a nutrition plan to help you have fewer migraines.
Alcohol is another common migraine trigger, as is caffeine. The most common alcoholic beverages that are triggers are red wine and beer. While too much caffeine can be a trigger, so can too little. Finding your personal balance is important.
Dehydration is also a trigger, so be sure to drink enough water.
A disrupted sleep pattern can be a migraine trigger. It is tempting to stay up late and sleep in on the weekends, but if the result is a migraine, it’s a temptation best avoided.
Regular sleep, following a schedule that is best for you, can help keep the pain away.
Most people know that light can worsen a migraine, however, light itself — bright, flickering, glaring, and fluorescent lights, for example — can be a migraine trigger. Limiting screen time when you feel an attack coming on or wearing tinted eyewear can help.
Avoiding areas that are likely to be loud can be helpful for those with sensory triggers. Dr. Wu performs a complete neurological evaluation for his migraine patients to help you determine whether loud sounds are one of your triggers.
Certain odors, such as cigarette smoke, perfumes, or chemical scents in things like household cleaners are triggers for some migraine patients. If your triggers include scents, look for fragrance-free products, and consider discussing the issue with your boss or co-workers to help alleviate strong fragrances at work.
Stress has been shown to exacerbate many aspects of your health, and it’s a trigger for many migraine sufferers. Learning how to de-stress could help you avoid pain.
Exercise is often cited as a way to let go of stress, but migraine patients should be careful because physical activity is a trigger for some. Finding an activity that helps you relax, whether that is a hobby, meditation, or simply spending time with people you care about can help you avoid migraine pain.
More women than men get migraines, and women experience hormonal changes like fluctuating levels of estrogen related to birth control, menstruation, or pregnancy. Those normal fluctuations can be migraine triggers.
Dr. Wu can help you determine if hormonal changes are a migraine trigger for you. He can suggest an effective treatment plan, which takes into account your personal triggers. He may prescribe preventive medication or a pain reliever that helps during a migraine attack.