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What’s Causing My Migraine? — Common Migraine Triggers

With a migraine’s debilitating pain and ability to restrict daily activities, migraine sufferers avoid certain triggers in their day-to-day lives to prevent an attack. While triggers are not the root cause of an attack, with chemical imbalances playing a significant role, they are certainly the catalyst for a migraine. Whether it be specific foods, accumulated stress, uncontrollable weather, or more, these factors are known to trigger nerves in the neck or around the face that send faulty chemical signals to the brain, and typically end in a migraine attack.


Over the years, there have been multiple theories regarding triggers that explain migraine pain and attacks. In the past, scientists believed that migraines were caused by fluctuations in blood flow in the brain. Now, they’ve come to learn that blood flow does not initiate pain, but further intensifies it.


Science’s newest and most trusted theory is that migraine pain only occurs when certain chemicals in the brain become “excited.” These chemicals include serotonin, most known for regulating mood and social behavior, but also responsible for appetite and digestion, sleep, and memory, and estrogen, the primary female sex hormone. While the trigger of estrogen may only occur in women, serotonin affects everyone. But, it is important to note that exciting either serotonin or estrogen will not always end in a migraine, rather, only when they are activated by migraine-related triggers, the underlying cause of migraines, will they result in an attack.


Let’s look at common migraine triggers, and also present some solutions. It’s important to note however that triggers vary person to person, and the only way to identify your triggers is through experience.



Avoidable Types of Triggers


This category consists of lifestyle triggers that can be altered. Additionally, our solution suggestions will not apply to everyone. Please consult our buoyant team, or your local doctor.


Dietary

Skipping meals/fasting

  • Typically, skipping meals and fasting may lead to low blood sugar (glucose) levels. Our bodies need energy to function, and most of our energy comes from consuming carbohydrates, which then convert to glucose. Foods that include carbohydrates are: bread, pasta, vegetables, potatoes, fruit, etc.

  • Our suggestion: maintain a well-balanced diet

  • Dieticians typically recommend three meals a day with a snack at night, or six small meals throughout the day.



Specific foods (we know this list seems daunting, but not all of these apply to everyone, it varies person to person)



Medication (overuse of over-the-counter medications)

  • Using ibuprofen, Excedrin Migraine, etc., more than two days per week may cause rebound headaches and migraines.

  • Solution:

  • Talk with your doctor about migraine medication. If you have limited access to a doctor, buoyant serves as an affordable and efficient alternative to discuss lifestyle changes and prescribing medications.


Sleep (changes in sleep patterns)

  • This includes napping, oversleeping, or too little sleep. Inconsistent sleep schedules risk triggering a migraine.

  • Solution:

  • Maintain a steady sleep schedule. Find a time that works best for your schedule to fall asleep and wake up, and be sure to stick with it.


Stress

  • Periods of high stress, accumulated stress, or repressing emotions

  • Stress is one of the most common triggers across migraine sufferers, with factors that include: anxiety, work, sudden life changes, depression, mental fatigue, loss and grief. It is important to note that both “bad stress” and “good stress” can trigger migraines. Positive stress can include a job promotion, marriage, having a baby, or buying a home. Of course it is challenging to avoid feeling overwhelmed and stressed, but there are ways to reduce these feelings.

  • Solution:

  • Relaxation techniques: meditation, yoga, massages, acupressure, music and art therapy, aromatherapy

  • Exercise (in moderation)

  • Essential oils: lavender, rose, ylang ylang, chamomile, sandalwood, etc.

  • Breathing practices

  • Listen to relaxing music



Physical

  • Overexertion

  • This may include working out in hot weather and over-exercising when out of shape. Moderation is key. It is also important to note that regular exercise has been proven to reduce migraines and migraine pain, so speaking with a doctor or health instructor about what workouts work best for you is essential.

  • Solution:

  • Learn your limit and the best temperatures to workout.


Visual triggers (eyestrain, lights)

  • It’s no secret that bright, flashing, and fluorescent lights and computer screens may trigger migraines. People with migraine often have a lower threshold for light or light-related pain than those who do not suffer, so most people see an increase in migraines during the summer time with the extremely bright, constant sun.

  • Wavelengths of light

  • The most harmful wavelength for migraine sufferers is blue light, occurring at 480 nanometers, is most commonly seen on the screens of our phones, computers, and TVs. Not only is it linked to affecting sleep patterns and eye strain, but is also known for triggering migraines and other forms of headaches. The best way to avoid this trigger is consuming these devices in moderation, purchasing blue light glasses, or using “night shift”, which is known for eliminating blue light, making the screen feel warmer and less straining on the eyes.


Becoming tired or fatigued

  • Like stated above, the best way to avoid feeling tired is to establish a steady sleep schedule that allows you to get the recommended amount of sleep, in order to avoid this trigger and migraines in general.



Difficult to Avoid Migraine Triggers


This category includes triggers that are often uncontrollable.


Environmental

  • Weather

  • For some individuals, weather may cause an imbalance in brain chemicals, triggering a migraine. Though, it is important to note that weather, for the most part, will not trigger a migraine on its own (typically must be paired with another trigger), unless it is an extreme change in weather. Additionally, migraine sufferers who are sensitive to weather are only sensitive to one type, whether it be rain, snow, extreme heat or cold, it all depends on the person.

  • High altitude

  • A 2017 study discovered a link between altitude pressure and migraines. Most migraine sufferers experience this trigger when traveling via airplane. Changes in atmospheric pressure result in an imbalance in the sinus cavities and the chambers of the inner ear, resulting in pain and potentially triggering a future migraine.

  • Odors/pollution

  • Seen in 95% of migraine sufferers, osmophobia, an extreme sensitivity to smell, may result in a painful migraine. Many are sensitive to particular perfumes, chemical odors, or smoke, and often note sensitivity before and during a migraine attack.

  • Hormonal

  • Estrogen level changes and fluctuations

  • With 85% of chronic migraine sufferers being women, it’s no surprise that estrogen fluctuations are a common trigger for migraine. Level changes and fluctuations may include, and are not limited to, menstrual cycles, birth control, hormone replacement therapies, ovulation, pre-menopause, and menopause.


The next time you feel a migraine coming, be sure to note any of the common triggers above and whether you’ve experienced any in the two days leading up to your migraine. As you continue to practice this, you will be able to notice common themes, similarities, and differences to identify your personal triggers. Not only will this practice present you some comfort, but it may also help you pinpoint preventative measures for future migraines. Here at buoyant, our goal is to help migraine sufferers create and maintain a balanced and controlled lifestyle. Speak to our doctors today about anything migraine related, from the comfort of your own home.



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