What Triggers Migraine? Experts Explain Steps To Prevent It


What Triggers Migraine? Experts Explain Steps To Prevent It

Migraine extends beyond a typical headache, involving severe throbbing pain typically on one side of the head, accompanied by symptoms like nausea, and sensitivity to light, and sound.


Headaches, the most common reason for seeking medical attention globally, surpass any other neurological problem in causing disability. According to Dr. Manoj A G, who is a Consultant Physician on Practo, "Migraines manifest as intricate neurological conditions, extending beyond a typical headache, involving severe throbbing pain typically on one side of the head, accompanied by symptoms like nausea, sensitivity to light, and sound."

The international Classification of Headache Disorders (ICHD) further classifies migraines into key types. "Migraine Without Aura involves recurrent headaches lasting 4 to 72 hours without auras. Migraine With Aura includes sensory disturbances. Chronic Migraine is frequent, lasting ≥15 days/month. Other types include Menstrual, Vestibular, and Retinal Migraines. This system aids precise diagnosis and management," said Dr. Manoj.

What Triggers Migraine?

Talking about this, Dr. Manoj said, "Triggers vary widely, necessitating the identification of personal triggers for better prevention. These include specific food items (e.g., chocolate, aged cheeses), hormonal changes, stress, lack of sleep, and environmental factors. Addressing these triggers empowers individuals to reduce the frequency and intensity of migraines."

Stress notably plays a significant role in triggering migraines, making stress management techniques like relaxation exercises beneficial. Maintaining a regular sleep schedule, staying hydrated, and adopting a healthy lifestyle contribute to prevention," he added.

Causes Of Migraine

Dr Pavan Pai, who is a Consultant Interventional Neurologist, at Wockhardt Hospitals, Mira Road said that migraines are complex and multidata-faceted, with a wide range of potential causes.

He went on to list them

One of the most common triggers is stress, which can lead to muscle tension and changes in brain chemicals that can induce migraines.

Another key factor is genetics. Did you know those with a family history of migraines tend to also have it? Research also suggests that hormonal fluctuations, such as those during menstruation or pregnancy, can play a significant role in migraine development.

Even environmental factors like strong smells, bright lights, and loud noises can act as triggers for some individuals. There is also evidence regarding the potential impact of gut health on migraines.

The gut-brain connection means that digestive issues or food sensitivities could potentially contribute to migraine development. Understanding these different causes is essential for developing comprehensive strategies to manage and prevent migraines effectively.

Hormonal fluctuations, like those experienced before or during menstrual cycles, pregnancy, and menopause, appear to be linked to headaches in many women. Additionally, hormonal medications like oral contraceptives can exacerbate migraines, although some women report a decrease in migraine frequency 

while taking these medications

In terms of drinks, alcohol (particularly wine) and excessive caffeine intake (such as from coffee) are known to be potential triggers for headaches.

Fluctuations in sleep patterns can lead to migraines, as both insufficient and excessive sleep can act as triggers for some individuals.

Intense physical activity such as sexual exertion can also provoke migraines.

Shifts in weather conditions or barometric pressure changes have the potential to prompt migraine episodes

Certain types of food, such as aged cheeses, salty processed foods, and those containing additives like aspartame and MSG, can act as triggers for migraines. Additionally, skipping meals may also have this effect.

Ways To Prevent Migraine

For individuals susceptible to migraines, proactive measures can significantly enhance their quality of life. These may encompass lifestyle adjustments, medications, complementary and alternative treatments, and in certain instances, surgical interventions.

Speaking about this, Dr Sushil Tandel, who is the Honorary Consultant Neurologist, at Holy Family Hospital said, "Given the debilitating nature of migraines, prevention becomes a paramount objective for those who endure them. This is especially crucial when migraines are severe, prolonged, or if standard medications result in intolerable side effects or prove ineffective."

Taking a pre-emptive stance against migraines is akin to a solid defense strategy. As migraines often stem from various triggers, many of which are lifestyle-related, avoiding these triggers can often avert an episode. This approach has the added benefit of being devoid of side effects.

Sleep deprivation ranks among the most common triggers for migraines. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend a minimum of seven hours of quality sleep for adults. If sleep-related challenges persist, consulting a healthcare provider to rule out sleep disorders is advisable. Adjustments to the sleep environment, such as using blackout shades, maintaining a comfortable temperature, and avoiding stimulants before bedtime, can contribute to better sleep.

Certain foods like chocolate, soy products, nitrate-containing foods, MSG, or food coloring can trigger migraines in some individuals. Maintaining a food diary to identify patterns and considering an elimination diet under medical supervision can be helpful. While an elimination diet should not extend beyond two weeks to prevent nutritional deficiencies, emerging research suggests potential benefits of the ketogenic diet in managing migraines.

Strong scents and loud noises can trigger migraines. Mitigating exposure through the use of nose plugs, masks, or aromatic oils may provide relief. Silent meditation has been shown to reduce the frequency and severity of migraines, and incorporating brief meditation breaks during overwhelming situations can be beneficial.

Stress is a common migraine trigger, and managing stress through activities like exercise, journaling, or engaging in hobbies is crucial. Paying extra attention to triggers during stressful periods, such as ensuring adequate sleep, becomes particularly important.

Caffeine, present in some migraine medications, can both help and trigger migraines. Managing caffeine intake regularly and predictably is advisable. If caffeine consistently induces migraines, complete avoidance may be necessary, considering sources like coffee, chocolate, cocoa, and tea.

Bright lights can trigger or worsen migraines. Wearing sunglasses or dimming lights during attacks may offer relief. Greenlight has shown therapeutic potential, and replacing some light sources with green bulbs or 'migraine lamps' could be a cost-effective preventive measure, though further research is needed.

Migraines can be influenced by temperature changes. 

Controlling environmental temperature or using ice packs and warm pads in specific areas may help mitigate migraine development.

For individuals experiencing more than three to five migraines per month, daily prescription medications for migraine prevention may be recommended. Some medications are used off-label for this purpose, and their use may vary over time based on the fluctuating nature of migraines. Regular consultation with healthcare providers is essential to assess and adjust the prevention plan as needed.

Home Remedies To Treat Migraine 

While medical treatments exist, exploring home remedies alongside conventional approaches may offer additional relief. Some of the home remedies as mentioned by Dr. manish Sabnis, who is a Consultant – Neurosurgeon, at Sahyadri Super Speciality Hospital, Hadapsar, pune are:

Resting in a Dark, Quiet Room

When a migraine strikes, finding a calm and dark environment is crucial. Bright lights and loud noises can exacerbate symptoms. By resting in a dark, quiet room, you allow your nervous system to relax, reducing sensory stimulation and providing relief from the intense pain associated with migraines.

Applying a Cold Compress to Your Head

Cold compresses can be effective in alleviating migraine pain. Placing a cold pack on your forehead or the back of your neck can help constrict blood vessels and reduce inflammation, providing a numbing effect that may ease the throbbing sensation often associated with migraines.

Massaging the Temples

Gently massaging your temples can help relax tense muscles and improve blood flow to the head. This simple technique may alleviate some of the pressure and discomfort associated with migraines. Use your fingertips to apply a gentle circular motion to your temples, and if comfortable, extend the massage to the base of your skull.

Stay Hydrated

Dehydration is a common trigger for migraines. Ensuring you stay well-hydrated can contribute to overall headache prevention. Drinking water throughout the day helps maintain proper bodily functions, including blood flow to the brain. However, avoid excessive caffeine and sugary drinks, as they may contribute to dehydration and trigger migraines in some individuals.

Avoid Triggers

Identifying and avoiding triggers is an integral part of migraine management. Bright lights, loud noises, and strong smells are common triggers for many migraine sufferers. Taking proactive measures to minimize exposure to these triggers can help prevent the onset of migraines. Consider using sunglasses, earplugs, or scent-free environments when possible.

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