Recognize Your Migraine Headache Triggers

Written by Holly Hazen

Recognizing your migraine headache triggers can range from obvious and simple to subtle and complex. They are from anything that causes a bad physical reaction including excruciating migraines and – well – can be from pretty much anything.

Everyone is as individual in their triggers, as they are individual beings.

So - food, weather, bright lights or injuries affect us all very differently.

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. Please read our what are migraines article for more details.

The normal sequence is: Trigger – Symptoms – Prodrome – Aura – Pain – Postdrome. So 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.

Here is the list of migraine headache triggers that I have gathered:

Food Triggers

Migraine Headache Triggers Chocolate Bar

The most common migraine triggers are:

Caffeine withdrawal, chocolate, red wine (what are tannins), cheese, left overs (migraine food triggers: tyramine), oranges, mono-sodium glutamate.

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


Missing, delaying, or having inadequate meals.

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.

Intense exercise.

Long distance travel.

Changes in sleep patterns. Both lack of sleep and sleeping in.

Environmental Triggers

Migraine Headache Triggers Perfume

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’s why I chose a purple background, it’s much easier on my light sensitivity.

Emotional Triggers

Anxiety, anger, crying, stress, fatigue. Any over whelming emotions can set the wheels in motion.

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 clock work!

Recognizing YOUR Migraine Headache Triggers From Recognizing Mine!

Migraine Headache Triggers Bright Lights

Recognizing your triggers can be very difficult. Let me rephrase that, I have found it very difficult to determine my migraine triggers over the years.

My first migraine from the Kit Kat chocolate bar was so obvious to me, that I never needed to test chocolate again.

Over the years, they seemed to change – a lot. And because of the extreme pain that hit, I found it hard to single out the triggers. Once I found a triptan that worked for me, I was slowly able to determine the triggers causing the symptoms.

One thing that has helped me is keeping a 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 accepted my many triggers, I recently 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.

I must say it’s much easier now to ask for what I need and I am no longer embarrassed by, what I still experience in society assuming, my imaginary emotional disease! I also found confidence from getting some migraine support counseling around all of this.

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.

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 and how to cope with migraines. 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.

› Recognize Your Migraine Headache Triggers

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