While the cause of migraines remains a mystery (more on that later), researchers have discovered a number of different migraine triggers that set off individual episodes. Check out our list of the most common migraine triggers to see if you are dealing with any of these. At the end of the article, we will discuss some research that may point to a potential underlying factor regarding migraines, and it has helped some patients to find natural relief.
The 10 Biggest Migraine Triggers
Using various survey methods, researchers have discovered a number of triggers that migraineurs hold in common. You can compare these 10 to things that trigger your migraines.
- Stress – This may be the biggest trigger of them all. Depending on the survey, as many as 70% of the responders say that stress leads to migraines. While some patients experienced migraines while stressed out, others get a migraine during the “let down” phase when they can finally relax and the levels of stress hormones in the body suddenly drop.
- Weather – This is one of the most insidious triggers because you don’t have any control, and weather predictions are so unreliable, it’s not like you can check the evening news and know when your next migraine will strike. Weather changes that affect migraineurs range from the proximity of lightning strikes to sudden changes in temperature, barometric pressure, and humidity levels.
- Medication – In particular, we are talking about the overuse of medications – particularly medications that people take for headaches. Sadly enough, many over-the-counter and even some prescription medications can increase the frequency of migraine attacks if taken too often. If the patient is not educated on this side effect, it can lead to a cycle where more medication is taken to combat the more frequent headaches and chronic migraines (15 or more headache days per month) set in.
- Sleep – Any major change in your sleep schedule can lead to a migraine. This includes everything from not falling asleep early enough to having to wake up earlier than usual and everything in between. The best way to counteract this trigger is to stick to a regimented sleep schedule where you leave 7-8 hours for sleep each night and both wake up and go to bed at the same time each day.
- Caffeine – This is an interesting trigger because sometimes caffeine can actually be good for a migraineur in moderation. Many migraines go back to insufficient blood flow and the brain not getting enough oxygen. Since caffeine helps blood flow, you may actually get some relief from a little caffeine. However, too much has been known to trigger migraine attacks, so you have to learn your own limits.
- Hormones – We touched on this earlier when discussing stress as a trigger, but sudden fluctuations in hormone levels can lead to more frequent and severe migraines. That is bad news for female migraineurs since you go through a cycle every month of changing hormone levels. If you are pregnant or approaching menopause, migraines may get even worse.
- Dehydration – While not one of the most common triggers, about 1 in 3 migraineurs say not getting enough fluids leads to migraines. It does make sense since a headache is one of the earliest signs of dehydration. This is also the trigger with the easiest fix – drink more water. Try downloading an app that keeps track of your water intake and reminds you to drink every hour or two.
- Sensory Overload – Whether it is bright lights, glare, a pungent or chemical smell, or even loud and unexpected sounds, sensory overload can lead to the onset of a migraine. This is reasonable, as sensory sensitivity is one of the most common symptoms of a migraine attack. Some migraineurs just seem to be sensitive to sensory overload even when they are not in the middle of an episode.
- Alcohol – While wine gets a bad rap when it comes to headaches in general, research shows that other types of alcohol may be even more common migraine triggers. Perhaps this goes back to dehydration as a trigger. After all, that headache a person wakes up with the morning after overindulging is actually just a symptom of dehydration. Alcohol dries out the body, so if you decide to drink, do so in moderation and be sure to increase your water intake accordingly.
- Cigarettes – If you smoke, now is the time to quit. Not only can cigarettes overload the senses, but they also affect blood flow. Really any tobacco product should be off limits for a migraineur. Even smelling someone else light up may be enough to trigger an attack.
Migraines – A Real Pain in the Neck
While 85-90% of migraines have a moderate to severe headache as a symptom, about 75% of migraine patients experience neck pain either before or during the attack. This can help us to identify a potential underlying issue as well as a natural way to find relief.
When the C1 (atlas) is misaligned, it can lead to neck pain, headaches, and affect the central nervous system in other ways that may lead to migraines. What are some of these complications of an atlas subluxation? Brainstem function may be inhibited, cerebrospinal fluid may fail to drain properly, and blood flow to the brain can be affected. These all affect the CNS and can create the right conditions in the brain for a neurological condition such as migraines to develop.
If you suffer from migraines, especially if you have a history of head or neck trauma, we encourage you to find an upper cervical practitioner near you. Some have found that migraine issues resolve in as little as one to two adjustments. A consultation may be your first step to finding natural and lasting relief.