Migraine Triggers 8 Wrong Moves You Should Avoid

Migraine triggers differ from individual to individual, so there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to preventing painful headaches. Still, there’s a lot that experts know about the most common migraine triggers – enough to compile a list of what NOT to do…

Migraine triggers differ from individual to individual, so there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to preventing painful headaches. Still, there’s a lot that experts know about the most common migraine triggers – enough to compile a list of what NOT to do…

You can be feeling great one minute, then be laid low by throbbing pain, nausea, sensitivity to light and sound and, perhaps, the zigzag, shimmering line of an aura.


You’ve got a migraine, a fairly common neurological disorder that affects 36 million Americans. Three times as many women suffer migraines as men.

What causes them? Experts still aren’t entirely sure.

What they do know is that migraine sufferers, or migraineurs, are biologically predisposed to be more sensitive to changes in their internal and external environments. These changes – such as stress, weather and not eating or sleeping properly – often trigger migraines.

A combination of two or more triggers usually leads to a migraine, says Brian M. Grosberg, M.D., director of the Montefiore Headache Center in New York City and associate professor of clinical neurology at Albert Einstein College of Medicine.

There’s no sure way to prevent a migraine, but here are 8 things you should NOT do – and what you can do instead.

1. Don’t underestimate your hormones.
“The No. 1 trigger for women, without a doubt, is hormonal changes,” says Susan Hutchinson, M.D., founder and director of the Orange County Migraine & Headache Center in Irvine, Calif., and a headache specialist at Hoag Neurosciences Institute in Newport Beach, Calif.

Keep a migraine diary.
Be diligent about chronicling virtually everything in your daily life: What time you go to bed and wake up, as well as the quality of your sleep; what you eat and drink and when; the amount of stress you experience; when you get your period and how long it lasts; the weather; even sensory influences such as lights, sounds and smells.

Then look for patterns; migraines tend to happen about 24 hours after exposure to a trigger, says Dr. Hutchinson, author of The Woman’s Guide to Managing Migraine: Understanding the Hormone Connection to Find Hope and Wellness (Oxford University Press). She adds that hormonal management may be an option; talk to your doctor.

Here’s where you can get a free online diary.

Avoid other triggers. Although you can’t control hormonal fluctuations, you can control other factors that, in combination with your menstrual cycle, might trigger a migraine, Dr. Grosberg says.

2. Don’t skip meals.
Missing meals is one of the biggest precipitating factors for migraine, says Stephen Peroutka, M.D., Ph.D., a neurologist in Carmel, Calif., who writes a yearly update for Headache: The Journal of Head and Face Pain.

Eat regularly.
Plan not only what you’ll eat but also when. Carry snacks with you in case your blood sugar drops, Dr. Peroutka suggests.

Nibble at night. A small study in the April 2014 Journal of Clinical Neuroscience reported a 40% reduced risk of migraine among people who ate a nighttime snack compared with those who didn’t.

3. Don’t neglect stress management.
Stress is at the top of the list of migraine triggers, but the post-stress letdown also can be a factor.

“A lot of people find it’s not the buildup to the final exam that causes a migraine, it’s the day after,” Dr. Peroutka says.

That’s because levels of cortisol – the “stress hormone” – tend to stay stable during stressful times, Dr. Grosberg explains. Then, when the stress is relieved, those levels drop – often dramatically. This change can trigger a migraine.

Avoid stress.
It’s not easy, but try to reduce the number of stressors in your life. Several patients have switched careers once they figured out that their migraines were closely linked to the work they were doing – with great results, Dr. Hutchinson says.

Keep your cortisol levels steady. Some people get migraines on the weekend, after a stressful week at work. To keep your stress-hormone levels on an even keel, practice relaxation techniques (such as deep breathing, meditation or listening to calming music) throughout the week, Dr. Grosberg suggests.

Exercise. “Not only is it a stress reducer, but it increases oxygenation, which can be a huge help with migraines,” Dr. Hutchinson says.


  • Paul Hughes

    December 26, 2015 at 12:27 pm Reply

    Hello there

    I came to this page expecting to find it full of the normal dietary tips with a nod towards hormones – as so many pages on migraines are. I’m glad you stressed the importance of – stress. I have plenty of clients who lost their migraines (or at least a good proportion of them) once resolving whatever issues had been causing them stress and anxiety.

    Best wishes


    • vmazzie

      December 31, 2015 at 3:56 am Reply

      Thanks Paul.. Glad you stopped by…

  • Paul Hughes

    January 13, 2016 at 1:47 pm Reply

    Hello VMazzie

    Do you think you could do me a favour? Could you remove my website address from my previous comment’s signature? It’s sending me far too many links because of your ‘recent comments’ being repeated on every page.



  • Paul Hughes

    January 13, 2016 at 1:49 pm Reply

    Oh. Don’t worry. I have found another solution.

  • Paul Hughes

    January 13, 2016 at 1:49 pm Reply

    Thanks 🙂

    • vmazzie

      January 13, 2016 at 4:36 pm Reply

      Sorry Paul, I didn’t realize it was doing that. If it doesn’t stop let me know. I will remove your website address just incase.

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