What Triggers Migraines?

Migraines are a big problem in the U.S., affecting more than 36 million people and even more globally. The problem is figuring out why they happen and how to stop them from worsening. It may not come as a surprise, but caffeine and light are classic migraine triggers. There are other factors.

What’s A Migraine?

“A migraine is much more than a bad headache. This neurological disease can cause debilitating throbbing pain that can leave you in bed for days! Movement, light, sound, and other triggers may cause symptoms like pain, tiredness, nausea, visual disturbances, numbness and tingling, irritability, difficulty speaking, temporary loss of vision, and many more.” Migraines are prevalent, affecting about one billion people worldwide. Most of its symptoms can be managed with therapy, medicine, or ketamine.

What Triggers Migraines?

Migraines can result from many factors:

    • You’re stressed out. According to one report, about 70 percent of people with migraines say stress is one of the most significant triggers. At the same time, another found that 50 to 70 percent of people tied daily stress levels to daily migraine activity. If you’re worried about the next attack, your stress level increases and forms a perpetual, exhausting cycle.
    • Sleep problems. Migraines and sleep have a symbiotic relationship. Sleep naturally rejuvenates and repairs your body — including your brain — so it’s only logical that you are more susceptible to migraine attacks if your sleep cycle is disrupted or becomes irregular. Many people report early morning migraines, often in the 4:00 am to 9:00 am range, increasing the risk of getting a sleep disorder.
    • There’s also a connection between migraines and hormones. Women get them three to four times more often than men, and nearly three-quarters of women report experiencing attacks concurrently with their menstrual period. Your doctor may refer to this as a “menstrual migraine,” and it only happens during a women’s period because of fluctuations in progesterone and estrogen levels.
    • Caffeine and Alcohol. If you’re one of the nearly 200 million Americans who are daily coffee drinkers, you may want to rethink your beverage choices. “The odds of having a migraine increased for those drinking three or more caffeinated beverages per day,” but some people believe that a daily cup of coffee can prevent migraine symptoms. But certain medications meant to battle migraine pain may include small amounts of caffeine. Alcohol, including red wine, can also trigger a migraine.
    • A migraine can also be triggered due to weather changes like storms, excessive heat, and fluctuations in barometric pressure.
    • The consumption of certain foods is tied to migraine attacks, particularly those which contain chocolate, histamine, MSG, dairy products, cheese, artificial sweeteners, cured meats, and those with a powerful smell.
    • If you don’t stay hydrated, you may be inviting a migraine. About 30 percent of those with migraines recognize dehydration as a trigger, with even minor levels being a fast track to incapacitating head pain. You can experience dizziness, confusion, or suffer a medical emergency if you’re dehydrated.
    • Stimuli such as bright lights and odors. “Light and other visual stimuli also can trigger migraine attacks: for example, flickering or pulsing lights, repetitive patterns, glare, bright lights, computer screens, TV, and movies. Fluorescent light contains invisible pulsing, which is likely why so many reports it as a migraine trigger.” For others, odors may be the culprit, activating specific nerve receptors in the nasal passages and triggering a migraine or worsening one that’s already begun.
  • Ironically, using too much medicine can also trigger a migraine. This is called Medication overuse headache, caused by the frequent use of certain painkillers or medicines, including non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs.

But there are ways to help.

Diagnosis & Treatment

There aren’t specific tests to diagnose a migraine, but the best place to start is with your doctor, especially if attacks are long-lasting and severe. Your healthcare professional may recommend different tests as a starting point, including:

  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). An MRI scan deploys radio waves and a powerful magnetic field to create comprehensive images of your brain and blood vessels.
  • Computerized tomography scan. This diagnostic uses a sequence of X-rays to produce detailed cross-sectional pictures of your brain.

Test results may influence diagnosis and, ultimately, a treatment recommendation (pain relievers, preventative medicine, or ketamine therapy) for your consideration.

Final Thoughts

If you suffer from debilitating migraine attacks which affect your quality of life, take steps to get better. Minor changes to your daily routine, eating, or sleep habits could help reduce symptoms. If pain medicine doesn’t work, ask your medical provider for another recommendation and see if ketamine is right for you.

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