With everything we know about human health, you might be surprised to learn that doctors and researchers still don’t know the exact cause of migraine headaches. About 15% of the population, or roughly 39 million people, suffer recurring and debilitating migraines each year. This serious condition not only causes intense discomfort and pain but also disrupts your ability to conduct your daily life.
One thing that is becoming increasingly clear, however, is that certain triggers can either prompt or intensify migraines symptoms. We’ve put together a list of five triggers that make migraines worse.
Before We Begin
One of the most powerful tools for understanding and preventing migraine pain is to keep a migraine journal. You can track your symptoms and make note of significant incidents. For example, you can keep track of these questions when you have a migraine:
- Where were you?
- What were you doing?
- Were you eating anything?
- Did you get enough sleep the night before?
- Did anything stressful happen that day or recently?
- How long did your symptoms persist for?
- Were you taking any other medications, drinking alcohol, or anything else that may have impacted your migraines?
Be sure to clearly record the dates, times, and frequency of the episodes. All of these things will help your doctor better understand your triggers and provide migraine treatments. Now, let’s take a look at some of the most prevalent causes of migraines.
1. Stress and migraines
Stress isn’t healthy for anyone. But it can be doubly bad for migraine sufferers. A significant increase in psychological or physical stress has been directly linked to migraines. Even low-level stress can play a role in triggering headaches and migraines.
Researchers have reported that around 50% to 70% of migraine sufferers attribute stress as triggers for both mild and severe episodes. In some cases, you may experience a migraine after a stressful event, while in other situations, your stress may exacerbate an existing migraine.
What you can do:
Unfortunately, it’s almost impossible to completely avoid stress. Instead, you should find strategies to lessen your stress. These can include practicing mindfulness, meditation, and other stress-reduction techniques. If you suffer from a co-occurring anxiety or depression disorder, speak with a mental health professional about different therapy options, including medication.
2. Diet and hydration for migraines
Research is beginning to show a relationship between blood sugar levels and the onset of migraines. When you get to a point of hunger where you start to feel shaky and even light-headed, a chemical change in the brain can trigger a migraine. These types of migraines can be particularly painful because, in addition to the migraine, you must battle the effects of low blood sugar and hunger. The same also goes with dehydration.
What you can do:
Don’t skip meals. This can be difficult if you are traveling or unable to leave work. So, stay prepared with nutritious snacks. Keep fruits, vegetables, nuts, and other options at hand in order to maintain your blood sugar levels until you have time for a proper meal.
Likewise, be sure to drink plenty of water and reduce the intake of beverages that may worsen dehydration such as coffee or alcohol. Make an effort to drink at least one glass of water per hour.
3. Watch how you exercise
We all know that exercise important to your health. Unfortunately for migraine sufferers, intense exercise may trigger migraine episodes. This doesn’t just include a heavy-duty workout session, but also a tough day at work or doing things such as heavy lifting or moving.
What you can do:
If you have noticed an increase in head pain levels after or during strenuous activity, talk to your doctor. They’ll be able to assist you by finding different ways to approach physical exercise and help you find other tools to manage your pain. Do not simply give up on exercising.
Instead, try to find healthy alternatives. For example, you may find success in changing your cardio routine from running into a lower-impact sport like swimming. Overall, exercise is essential in helping both your migraines and total health.
4. Irregular or insufficient sleep from migraines
Sleep disorders are one of the top factors linked to migraines. Reduced levels of sleep, excessive sleep or poor quality sleep often trigger migraines. Jet lag and other changes in your schedule can also trigger an episode. To make matters more complicated, insomnia is often associated with chronic migraines. You may even have a higher risk of developing anxiety and depressive disorders. However, getting proper sleep can greatly relieve your migraine symptoms.
What you can do:
Develop healthy sleep habits. Your body needs to be on a routine. Be sure you go to bed and wake up at the same time each day. Make sure you do not eat or exercise at least two hours before going to sleep. Turn off your devices and listen to soft music, or read a book to unwind.
You can also develop a sleep regimen to help signal to your body that it’s time to wind down, such as taking a hot bath, meditating, and practicing relaxation techniques.
Finally, keep a sleep journal and reports incidents of insomnia or poor sleep to your doctor. In general, you do not want to take prescription sleep medications over a long period of time, but having access to them on nights where you are suffering from acute insomnia can provide much-needed sleep and thus relief
5. Don’t work through the migraine pain
We live in a culture that emphasizes powering through pain. As kids, we all heard from coaches and friends to “walk it off.” However, this is never a good idea and is particularly bad for people with migraines. When you ignore symptoms, including ringing in your ears, seeing light, feeling dizzy or the other warning signs, you need to stop what you are doing immediately.
What you can do:
Recognize your trigger signs and take time to rest when they manifest. If you can, lie down in a dark, quiet place. It may also be helpful to put a cool, damp cloth on your forehead. Or, you can massage the side of your head or scalp.
Some of these things may be more difficult in public spaces. However, you should still try to find ways to relax. If you are at work, close your computer and use an eye mask to block out fluorescent lights, which may worsen your symptoms of migraines.
Environmental and Other Triggers of Migraines
Some other everyday things that may trigger a migraine attack include:
- Strong smells
- Odd smells
- Bright light
- Aged cheese
- Red wine
- Food additives
- Caffeine withdrawal
This doesn’t mean you have to avoid everything on the list. Just be aware of them and notice if there is a relationship between your consumption of them and your migraines.
Things That Make Migraines Worse: The Bottom Line
Living with migraines can be extremely tough. Unfortunately for many migraine sufferers, some of their worst triggers are common in their everyday lives. However, this doesn’t mean you have to give up on your favorite foods and activities. You just need to be a little more conscientious.
Begin by tracking your migraines with a journal so you can link between activities and your symptoms. From there, begin practicing good habits, such as relaxation and stress reduction techniques, along with creating a healthy sleep routine. Through this combined approach, you’ll be able to minimize discomfort and create the overall wellbeing you need to live your life.
Edited by Courtney Smith
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