Researchers are still trying to understand what causes migraines. One theory suggests migraines may be caused by imbalances in brain chemicals like serotonin, which helps regulate pain in your nervous system. Another belief is that migraines may be due to changes in the brainstem and its interactions with the trigeminal nerve, a major pain pathway. Although the exact causes of migraines are not yet known, there are several triggers linked to the pain, including certain foods, hormonal changes, and sensory stimuli.
Migraine triggers are different for everyone, but here are some of the most common offenders:
- Foods. Some cheeses, salty foods and processed foods can trigger migraines in many adults. If you identify specific food triggers, be sure to avoid them as much as possible.
- Food additives. The sweetener aspartame and the preservative monosodium glutamate (MSG), found in many foods, may trigger migraines. Keep processed foods at a minimum.
- Drinks. Migraines often appear a result of too much alcohol, especially wine, and caffeine drinks. Avoid or limit these beverages if you find they are bothersome.
- Stress. Overly stressed? Whether it’s at work or home, migraines can appear. Take time for yourself and ensure you’re paying attention to your mental health.
- Sensory overload. Migraines can be induced by an heightened stimulation of the senses—such as bright lights, loud sounds and strong smells. Pay attention to your sensitivities and carry sunglasses, headphones or calming lotions to try and help curb the intensity.
- Changes in sleep pattern. Not getting enough sleep can trigger migraines, but so can oversleeping. Try to stick to a consistent sleep schedule by going to bed at the same time every night and aim to get 7-8 hours of sleep.
- Physical factors. Intense physical activity like high-impact exercise, sexual activity or overexertion can also be factors. Know your body’s limits and take time to rest.
- Changes in the environment. Some people notice a change in weather or barometric pressure can prompt a migraine. Check the weather ahead of time and pay attention to what affects you.
- Medications. Certain medications including oral contraceptives and vasodilators—blood pressure medications such as nitroglycerin—can aggravate migraines. Talk to your doctor if you notice your migraines are getting worse while taking medication,
- Hormonal changes in women. Fluctuations in estrogen can trigger headaches in many women. Women with a history of migraines often report headaches immediately before or during their periods, when they have a major drop in estrogen. Others have an increased tendency to develop migraines during pregnancy or menopause. Talk to your doctor about ways to find relief that is best for you.
If you get migraines often, pay attention to your potential triggers and talk to your doctor about how to keep them at bay.