What are migraine triggers?

Triggers are not the cause of a migraine, as they would not cause migraine headaches in people without a migraine tendency. But they are the things that trigger an attack in those who do have migraines. It is felt that migraines are an inherited condition in most people. If a careful three-generation family history is taken, a history of migraine can be found in at least one extended family member in 90% of migraine sufferers. The underlying inherited susceptibility to migraine, most likely genetic in basis, is felt to be the cause of migraine.

Triggers are physiological or environmental stressors which serve to further lower the threshold of those already susceptible to migraine, making a headache happen more easily.

It is commonly known that foods can trigger migraine headaches. But did you know that there are many non-food triggers? A poll conducted by the World Headache Alliance asked “What is the most significant factor preventing you from effectively managing your headaches?” Most people indicated that it was the inability to manage stress and other lifestyle factors.

Many migraine specialists consider the “migraine brain” to be more sensitive, in a way, although probably a better way to think of it would be more sensitized. But whichever word you use, it means that if you have migraines, your brain doesn’t do well with changes, like changing hormonal levels.  It also means you are more susceptible to changes in your schedule, and can’t get away with things like skipping meals, skipping sleep, or not drinking enough water.

Explore the content on various trigger types to learn how you can decrease the number of migraines you experience.

by Christina Peterson, MD

updated Feb 9, 2010