Do you know that investing time and efforts to identify any migraine causes can usually pay off in the long run? Being a primary headache, migraine has caused huge inconveniences to millions of people around the world. Therefore, having a proper diagnosis and determining the migraine triggers is the crucial first step in getting your migraines under control.
Ideally, the frequency of the migraine attacks can be reduced dramatically if you are able to identify their causes and triggers. These triggers include a wide range of environmental factors such as medications, chemicals as well as certain food and beverages. Although some of these triggers are out of our control, many can just be easily avoided with minor changes to your lifestyle coupled with careful planning.
What Are Migraine Causes?
Otherwise known as headache triggers, they are things that you eat or do, which initiate a migraine attack. Triggers are very individual and they usually differ between different people.Some triggers may sound easy to avoid in theory but can be difficult to manage in real life; these may include changes to your sleep patterns, stress levels and medications. As we all know, we simply do not have the luxury to sleep early sometimes, especially when you have tons of work piling up before a dateline. So in reality, what causes migraine headaches? Well, read on to find out!
1. Food Triggers
Food addictives have long been identified as one of the main causes of migraine headaches. Most of the time, these foods contain chemicals that induce changes to the body functions which can indirectly set off a migraine. The rest of this section will discuss about the common migraine causing foods such as:
- Aspartame (artificial sweetener)
- Citrus fruits
- Bakery products and bread with yeast
If you have identified that aspartame as your migraine trigger, then avoid Maxalt-MLT (orally dissolving tablets). These actually contain aspartame which can make your headache worse. You should take the standard tablet form instead, which contains no aspartame.
Preservatives or Addictives
The common ones are monosodium glutamate, sodium nitrate and food dye – FD&C yellow #5. However, they can be easily avoided by checking the food labels.
These are vasoactive substances that are derived from amino acids. They are commonly known as Histamine, Beta-Phenylethylamine and Tyramine. As a good practice, always buy meat and fish that are fresh and remember to store them properly. Cook them in a timely manner and try not to keep leftovers around for more than 1 day, as foods that are stored for a long time will have increased levels of amines.
Do you know that reports of migraines caused by caffeine are gradually increasing each year? While small amounts of caffeine can help to ease a headache, large doses often have reverse effects and can become migraine causes. Other than this, many alcoholic beverages contain high levels of tyramine and histamines.
2. Travel Triggers
This may be less common, but if your job requires you to travel frequently, then you may be at risk of suffering from migraines. When travelling, both food and timing can become erratic – yet, this is only a portion of it before things like jet lag or lack of sleep come in. If you are on a business trip, there will often be stressed involved as well.
Almost any form of transportation will have some risk for motion sickness and this can be a migraine cause as well. If you think that you are a victim of motion sickness, then the following tips may help. You can also try acupressure bands that are worn on the wrists to relieve any nausea. Of course, there are drugs available for motion sickness. These should be taken before the travel and according to your doctor’s instructions. Some examples are scopolamine patches and meclizine.
Changes in cabin pressure during the takeoff and landing can become migraine causes. Although this is out of our control, what you should do is to minimize any other potential triggers. Stay well-hydrated and try to refrain to taking snacks or roasted nuts since they are likely to contain addictives and preservatives.
3. Chemical or Drug Triggers
Not all medications or drugs are useful for migraine relief. For some people, they may even become potential causes of migraines without the victim realizing the fact themselves. Popular examples of such triggers are the cigarettes and alcohol. Smoke from cigarettes, regardless of first or second hand, may cause a migraine attack. Over 3,000 types of chemicals can be found in cigarette smoke and what are the odds of at least one being a trigger for you?
If you are a smoker and are experiencing migraines frequently, then seriously consider quitting. With professional help, try to come up with a plan to quit gradually with the help of nicotine replacement patches or gum. Extra caution must be taken to prevent a sudden nicotine withdrawal as it can turn out to be a migraine cause as well.
These are the commonly known drugs that are associated with migraine attacks:
- Anti-asthma medications
- Men dysfunction drugs
- Hypertension drugs
4. Weather Related Triggers
It is not completely clear scientifically about how changes in weather can cause headaches. Changes in humidity, temperature, weather patterns and even barometric pressure are all potential migraine triggers for some people.
If you are one of them, then here are some tips that can help you to avoid them:
Monitor the weather – Read weather reports daily to spot any potential triggers. Invest in a barometer if you are prone to the changes in barometric pressure.
Have more fresh air – Use an ionizer to improve the air quality in your room. This can be effective if you are suffering from allergies.
Keep sunglasses readily available – Consider keeping extra pairs of sunglasses in your office, home, car and anywhere else you might need them. Bright sunlight is a common cause of migraine and can worsen it.
Stay covered – Cold weather or climate cause migraines in some people. If you think that you are one of them, then always wear a hat before going outside and keep your ears covered.
Stay dry – Damp or humid weather can sometimes trigger headaches. Try to invest in a dehumidifier so that you can keep the temperature dry in your room.
Stay cool – If you think that hot days are causing your migraines, then ensure you keep your work environment and home comfortably cool at all times. Try to stay in shady areas when you are outside.
5. Sensory Triggers
You may not be aware, but there is always a potential risk of migraine attack if our sensory systems are being confused by external factors. Among them, touch and taste triggers are the least common.
People who are sensitive to smell usually have pungent odors as their migraines triggers. This sensitivity can range from pleasant smells like scented candles and perfumes, to fumes from car exhausts, pollution, chemicals or second-hand smoke from cigarettes.
Most migraine victims are extra sensitive to flickering bright lights, otherwise known as the photophobia. Fluorescent and incandescent lighting can become too bright for them. If you are one of them, try to use low wattage bulbs that are labelled as ‘soft lights’ and do not expose your eyes directly to these lights. You may also consider using light shade or dark light filter if you still find that the lights are too bright.
If your work requires you to sit in front of the computer most of the time, then try adjusting the colour and contrast of the monitor to reduce glare. Make sure that you also alter the monitor’s screen frequency to minimize screen flicker.
Some migraine victims experience phonophobia and are particularly sensitive to loud and persistent sounds. These are usually high-decibel or high-frequency sounds which are also the reason why many people with migraines prefer to rest at quiet places.
6. Triggers from Lifestyle Changes
Migraines can sometimes strike when your daily routines become erratic or reprioritized; stress is usually a part of it as well. Other lifestyle habits such as drinking or smoking can also contribute to the frequent migraines.
Although there is yet a clinical research that can verify the relationship between stress and migraines, it is very likely that stress makes migraine victims more prone to the other headache triggers. A study has also shown that a large percentage of migraine sufferers reported that stress is a trigger for them.
Get More Sleep
Lack of sleep is slowly becoming a problem for many people, especially the working adults with newborns. Adults should get at least 7 to 8 hours of sleep every night, and children require at least 9 hours. In contrary, too much sleep can also be a problem sometimes and changes in sleep patterns can also have the potential to trigger headaches. Sleep patterns can become quite erratic if your job involves you in a revolving shift-schedule. If possible, always try to have a proper and sufficient sleep every night. Sometimes, it is worth sacrificing the few hours of bar time with your friends just to have a good rest.
Eat Proper Meals
If you are having irregular meals and is constantly experiencing migraines, then it is about time that you start to eat regularly. Certain stress hormones that are released during the period of prolonged fasting can stimulate a migraine attack. If for some reasons that you must fast, then try to break it with a light meal.
7. Triggers from Hormonal Changes
Research has concluded that there is a fairly clear relationship between the migraine frequency and hormone estrogens. This relationship is commonly found in women and about 70 percent of women suffering from migraines blamed their menstrual cycles as migraine causes.
Rising estrogen levels will usually lead to fewer menstrual related migraines; pregnant women experience rapid rising of estrogen levels and this leads to the decrease of their migraine frequencies.
On the other hand, if estrogen levels drops, then the woman will become vulnerable to migraine attacks. Women who take birth control pills with high levels of estrogen as contraceptives are also at higher risk for migraines; their estrogen levels will drop very drastically once the effects of these contraceptives wear off. If you are able to identify that your migraines are menstrual related, then try to treat and prevent the attacks by using migraine preventative treatments immediately before, during and immediately after.