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How To Recognize Your Migraine Headache Triggers

Written by Holly Hazen


Recognizing your migraine headache triggers can range from obvious and simple to subtle and REALLY complex. Triggers cause that physical chemical reaction in your brain that results in excruciating migraines and – well – sadly, they can be triggered from pretty much anything... anything that makes your sensitive system react.


This is what makes identifying your triggers difficult. Everyone can have very different ways of experiencing similar triggers. BUT... the end result is the same... a migraine attack.

So - food, weather, bright lights or injuries could affect you.

Migraine triggers start the process followed by symptoms and then excruciating pain - in most cases.

In some instances there is no pain... only symptoms.

Migraine headache triggers are just the initial phase of the whole migraine episode. The trigger sets off a series of physical reactions that leads to symptoms. The pain is actually the third phase. I've written all about it in this post - What Are Migraines From?

The typical stages are: prodrome, aura, pain, postdrome...


  Trigger >> Prodrome >> Aura >> Pain >> Postdrome    

So you can see that the trigger sets off a whole chain reaction to over excite the nervous system into having a migraine. It is quite a complex chain of events with many things involved... starting in your brain.

Here is the list of migraine headache triggers to be aware of:

Food Triggers

The most common migraine triggers are:

  • Dehydration.
  • Missing, delaying, or having inadequate meals.

Click here for an A - Z list of foods that trigger migraines.

How To Recognize Your Migraine Headache Triggers @migrainesavvy

Physical Triggers

Hormonal migraines, serotonin (build-up, production or non production), stress, gluten allergies, smells, injury to the spine or neck, or knee, eye strain. And:

  • Intense exercise.
  • Long distance travel.
  • Changes in sleep patterns. Both lack of sleep and sleeping in.

Environmental Triggers

Changes in the weather.

Strong smells - in my case cigarette smoke is a major trigger and perfume.

I am guaranteed to have a migraine if I am in the presence of either smoke or perfume.

Bright lights, glare, sunshine ....

Oh and long hours on the computer that can cause light sensitivity.

Emotional Triggers

Any overwhelming emotions can set the wheels in motion.

  • Anxiety
  • Anger
  • Crying
  • Stress
  • Fatigue

Surprisingly - relaxation after a stressful period can bring on a migraine for some people. My doctor friend gets her migraine when she goes on holidays. Twice a year, like clockwork!

Recognizing YOUR Migraine Headache Triggers From Recognizing Mine!

I found it very difficult to determine my migraine triggers in the initial ten years. Yes ten! There was no internet really to use when it all began for me. You have a wealth of knowledge available to you now.

My first migraine from the Kit Kat chocolate bar was so obvious to me, that I never needed to test chocolate again. (But of course I did!)

Over the years, my triggers seemed to change – A LOT! And because of the extreme pain that hit, I found it hard to single out specific 100% of the time triggers. Once I found a triptan that worked for me, I was slowly able to determine more triggers that initiated the attack.

It pays to become aware of the subtle symptoms before they get loud like: eyes crushing, (or one eye crushing), neck pain, eye pain, blurry vision, confusion (not understanding things, not speaking right), funny taste in your mouth, smelling things that aren't there.

One thing that helped me was to keep a detailed Migraine Diary. Please click on the link to download and use my version. Keeping track is important because your triggers can be cumulative. Keep a food diary too as foods can accumulate into a trigger for 4 days prior to your attack.

Having finally learned (and accepted) my numerous triggers, I have been much more assertive with reducing my exposure to them by asking people not to smoke around me. I have had to ask fellow students, clients and friends not to wear perfume around me.

I almost passed out from fear the first time I asked anybody. I stood up in front of a class of 18 people and well... they all took it very calmly... but I was shaking, sweating and very embarrassed that I had to ask just to be able to attend that class. Oh dear - the hidden stresses of migraine.

It’s much easier now to ask for what I need and I am no longer embarrassed by having to use external measures to help reduce attacks.

My Advice To You

My advice to you is to learn to recognize your migraine headache triggers as soon as possible so you can stop the next attack. Educate yourself (like you just did by reading this post!) so you know what to look for.

Work closely with a good doctor who is well informed about migraines. Get a referral to work with a headache specialist if s/he doesn't have previous experience with migraines.

Keep track of what you eat, what you do and how you feel. A migraine journal and a migraine diary will help. Keep the details to review with your doctor.

Try my migraine pain management course that covers triggers in depth and how to cope with migraine attacks. It has a food experiment and a stress management journal, a symptom tracker, a medication tracker, a pain management process to follow step by step, activities and more.


Click here for my Migraine Pain Management course, it's FREE to enroll >>

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