What Are Migraine Triggers?

What causes migraines? Truthfully, a lot is still unknown about the exact rhyme and reason a person may develop a migraine. However, we know that certain events or circumstances called triggers can bring about a migraine. The nature of the trigger is different for each individual, although some triggers are more common than others. These triggers occur in a person’s day-to-day life and can be challenging to avoid.

Caffeine and Migraines

Maybe you are that type of person that can’t function in the morning until you have your first cup of coffee. Maybe your meals aren’t complete without your favorite soda. Caffeine in controlled doses can be helpful for you to get that boost of energy you need to get you through the day. But, if you routinely consume an above-average amount of caffeine, going without it can cause your migraine to flare up.

Essentially, if a person’s body has become dependent on a daily caffeine fix, caffeine withdrawal can result in a migraine if they remove caffeine from their daily routine. However, on the bright side, many migraine sufferers can use caffeine to help alleviate their migraine pain. In fact, caffeine is one of the main active ingredients in several over-the-counter migraine medications.

Keep in mind, though, that caffeine affects everyone differently. For example, while caffeine withdrawal is the more frequent cause of caffeine-related migraines, consumption of caffeinated beverages, conversely, can actually be the cause of some people’s migraines.

Can Stress Cause Migraines?

The answer is yes. It is no surprise that if you become mentally or emotionally distressed, your body may experience a physical reaction. When you experience a stressful event, your body releases chemicals to help modulate your response to the event. However, in some cases, the changes that these chemicals cause to your body’s vasculature can trigger a migraine.

Conversely, some have also reported that a decrease in stress triggers their migraines. A 2014 study performed by Dr. Richard Lipton et al. confirmed the association between reducing stress and the subsequent “let-down” migraine.

Food and Migraines

The consumption of different types of food, such as chocolate and cheese, and food additives, such as MSG and aspartame, have commonly been reported as precipitating factors for migraines. Interestingly, though, the association between food and migraines is based almost entirely on anecdotal reports from migraine sufferers. Scientific studies on migraines have yet to confirm a causal link between specific foods and migraines.

Barometric Pressure and Migraines

Did you ever hear your grandmother say she could feel a storm coming in her bones? Well, as it turns out, weather can have an impact on the human body. Specifically, changes in the barometric pressure caused by weather changes can trigger migraines. For example, rainstorms bring changes to the moisture content and temperature of the air, which alters the pressure that the air exerts on our bodies. This barometric pressure change causes an imbalance between the pressure in our body’s cavities, like the sinus cavities in our heads, and the external pressure in the air surrounding our bodies. This imbalance of air pressure can trigger a migraine.

Estrogen and Migraines

As if menstrual cycles don’t already produce enough adverse side effects, menstruation can also include migraines in women already prone to migraines. Multiple studies, including one study recently published in March of this year by Nihaal Reddy et al., have found the fluctuations in the amount of estrogen a woman’s body produces during her cycle to likely be a crucial contributing factor to the development of migraines during menstruation.

External Stimuli and Migraines

Concerts, fairs, home renovations, or passing by the perfume counter in a mall are all places and events that can be a trigger for migraines. In addition, bright lights and loud sounds can lead to a migraine attack, whether you’re at a festival, club, or dance hall. Finally, even a nice day on the lake can end with a migraine caused by the glare from the sun.

Scent can be a powerful force, and various scents can trigger migraines for some people. For example, people have reported experiencing migraines after passing by a perfume display, the candle aisle, or a group of smokers outside; all these scents, among others, can lead to a migraine. Also, if you have a home renovation project on your to-do list, keep in mind that the scent of paint or paint thinner can cause a sensory-related migraine.

Exercise and Migraines

It’s not only what surrounds you that can lead to painful migraines. Intense physical activity can also send you down a path that ultimately ends with a migraine.

Feel free to crank up “Let’s Get Physical” by Olivia Newton-John and grab your sweatbands. Exercise is good for you. However, vigorous movement during exercise can aggravate your migraine symptoms, especially if you are working out outside while the ambient temperature is high. So, learn your limits before hitting the gym or going for a run outside during the summer season.

Besides working up a sweat, other physical activities can also trigger a migraine. Sleep is a careful balancing act. Getting too little or too much sleep can practically ruin your day. The same goes for migraines. Sleeping in a little late or staying up later than usual to finish binging your favorite TV show could trigger your next migraine episode. And if you enjoy traveling and experience jet lag during your travels, you can likely expect the same physical response.


While the type of trigger varies from one migraineur to the next, most migraine sufferers are aware that certain types of activity or stimuli typically result in a migraine for them. The exact mechanism by which many of these triggers contribute to the onset of a migraine is still being studied, but migraine sufferers must learn their triggers by searching for commonalities in the events leading up to their migraine attacks. By taking the time to understand the relationship between specific events and their migraines, they can potentially prevent future migraines by attempting to avoid their triggers.

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