What are the Common Triggers of Migraines?


A migraine is a severe type of headache that can occur occasionally or repeatedly (it happens several times a day or lasts for several days). This common condition can affect anyone and is thought to affect up to a billion people around the world. Migraines are often accompanied by other symptoms like vomiting and nausea, a high sensitivity to sound or light or smells, as well as problems with vision (blurry or unfocused sight).

The truth is migraines remain one of the mysteries of human biology that are not fully understood. Some possible causes include issues with the central nervous system or problems occurring in the blood vessels of the body and brain. It may also be caused by chemicals in the brain and nerves (these chemicals are used for signalling and communication in your nervous system). It is thought that people with certain genetic makeup may be more susceptible to migraines.

Although the actual causes are unknown, certain triggers for migraines have been identified, some people may get a migraine from multiple triggers. Let look at some of the most common migraine triggers:

Salty Foods

Foods that are high in salt like aged meats, canned foods, processed foods and deli meats are often reported as triggers for migraines. It is not known whether salt itself is responsible for migraine symptoms, but some research suggests that during a migraine there are higher sodium levels in the brain. If you find yourself getting a migraine after eating certain types of food, try to avoid them in the future.


Of all the food-related triggers, skipping meals or fasting is one of the most common triggers. If you have chronic migraines, it is best to avoid fasting or skipping meals unless you are under medical supervision.

Other common dietary triggers

Some other dietary triggers include coffee, chocolate and alcohol. Artificial sweeteners are also reported to cause migraines, they should be avoided if you regularly get migraines. It should be noted that none of these are medically proven to be the cause of migraines, they simply have a higher association of triggering a migraine.

External Triggers

Loud sounds, flashing bright lights, strong and persistent odours can possibly trigger a migraine attack. It is important to note, these triggers may cause a migraine but a migraine can also result in hypersensitivity to light, sound and smell. If these types of stimuli affect you, avoid going to loud and crowded places, avoid bright and shiny lights and you may want to avoid wearing strong perfumes as well.

Stress and Hypertension

Physical stress (such as from extreme exercise or physical labour) may trigger a migraine, so can mental stress. If mental stress is persistent it may lead to severe headaches that can be categorized as migraines.
Hypertension (high blood pressure) and migraines are typically reported together, the data isn’t clear on whether one causes the other. But some hypertension medications may cause headaches and some medications for headaches can trigger high blood pressure. Consult with your doctor about this if you are taking either kind of medication.


Some medications (like vasodilators) can also have migraines as a side effect, especially those that relate to hormones in the body (such as hormone replacement, birth control). In some cases, however, birth control medicines may actually reduce migraine symptoms.

Other common triggers

Hormonal changes like those that occur during periods and pre or post-pregnancy hormonal fluctuations are also associated regularly with migraines. Women are more likely to experience migraines in adulthood than men, although in childhood males have a higher chance of getting migraines. Apart from hormonal changes, lack of sleep is very closely tied to headaches and migraines, it is common for people who experience jet lag to get a migraine. It’s not just lack of sleep, changes in the sleep cycle too can trigger a migraine. Dehydration can also trigger a migraine, although this may be called a headache and it can be easily fixed by drinking water or receiving an IV saline. Weather changes like sudden heat, pressure changes and others are also linked with the occurrence of migraines.

How to Avoid Migraines

First, identify your migraine triggers. If you’re not able to identify them, then seek help from a doctor. Next, your doctor may prescribe medication and changes to your routine/diet to see if that helps. If you’re able to avoid the things that trigger migraines for you, then start with that and you may not need any medication. If you find yourself passing out, unable to see clearly or unable to move while you have a migraine then you need to see a doctor immediately. If you have a family history of migraines, are younger than 30 or are female then your risk of developing migraines is significantly higher. If you have chronic migraines, keep a journal to detail their time of occurrence, their intensity, what part of your head hurts, any other symptoms you are experiencing and how often you get them in the week. This information can be helpful to your doctor when they diagnose you. Please note that apart from the above triggers, you may also have some other underlying cause for your migraines.