Migraines suck. Migraines can be painful, debilitating and sometimes scary depending on the symptoms. While the exact cause of migraines remains inexact, patients, doctors and researchers have identified several triggers that can contribute to the onset migraines. Understanding and tracking these triggers is crucial for migraine sufferers as it can empower them to better manage their condition and improve their overall quality of life.
The Complexity of Migraine Triggers:
Migraine triggers are unique to each individual, and what may cause a migraine in one person may not affect another. These triggers can vary widely, making it challenging to pinpoint specific causes. Some triggers that patients have noticed have not been confirmed when studied which can cause some self doubt. It may be that the actual trigger is something associated with what the patient believes is their trigger. There could also be an error in study design as migraine triggers tend to be complex so it is difficult to study them in a larger group.
Triggers might be additive in some people. What I mean by this is perhaps when Jimmy is stressed and he eats bacon those two things together trigger a migraine but not each individually, or when Becky misses sleep then skips breakfast a migraine is triggered but not on days where she only does one of those things.
We do know that there is often a delay between trigger exposure and the painful phase of a migraine. A migraine may only develop after 6-48 hours after a person is exposed to their trigger. This is why I ask my patients to consider any triggers they were exposed to in the 2 days preceding the migraine.
If It Is So Complicated, Why Track Them?
Identifying triggers can help you recognize patterns and make informed decisions about lifestyle changes that may reduce the frequency and intensity of migraines. Migraines occur sporadically so finding a pattern allows you some control over what feels like an uncontrollable situation.
Common Migraine Triggers:
Dietary Factors: Certain foods and beverages, such as chocolate, cheese, caffeine, alcohol, and processed foods, have been linked to migraines in some individuals. Skipping meals is a common trigger that leads many patients to believe what they eat after their missed meal is responsible for the migraine. Dehydration has been identified as a possible trigger as well.
Environmental Factors: External stimuli, including bright lights, strong odors, loud noises, and extreme temperatures, might act as triggers for migraines.
Hormonal Changes: Fluctuations in estrogen levels, often experienced during menstrual cycles, pregnancy, or menopause, can trigger migraines in many people.
Stress and Emotional Factors: Stress, anxiety, and emotional upheaval are known triggers for migraines. Learning stress management techniques and monitoring emotional well-being can assist individuals in mitigating these triggers.
Sleep Irregularities: Both insufficient and excessive sleep might trigger migraines. Establishing regular sleep patterns and ensuring an adequate amount of quality sleep is essential for migraine management.
Intense Exercise: Changing how much you exercise may trigger a migraine especially if the exercise is intense.
Mystery Triggers: You may have a special trigger that has not been reported by many others. Medicine is always evolving, I'm sure there is a long list of triggers we have yet to discover.
How to Track Migraine Triggers:
Use a Migraine Tracker: Keep a detailed record of each migraine episode, noting the date, time, duration, symptoms experienced, and potential triggers you were exposed to over the last 2 days. This record will serve as a valuable reference to identify patterns over time.
There is a tracker for download for free at this link (A downloadable link is sent to your email).
There is a video on how to use this tracker found here.
Be Consistent: Update your migraine tracking system after every migraine to ensure accuracy and capture all relevant data. Consistency is key to identifying triggers and implementing effective management strategies.
Consult Healthcare Professionals: Share your migraine tracking records with your healthcare team. They can provide insights, help interpret the data, and work with you to develop personalized strategies for managing your condition.
Tracking migraine triggers is a crucial step towards effectively managing migraines. By identifying individual triggers and making lifestyle adjustments, individuals can reduce the frequency and severity of migraines, leading to a better quality of life.