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Tips for avoiding migraine triggers

Some times there is no obvious cause of a migraine, but for some people there may be triggers such as red wine, caffeine withdrawal, emotional stress or missed meals.

To work out whether there's a pattern and some regular causes to your migraines, it helps to keep a headache diary.

Write down activities that took place before or during the migraine. What were you eating? What were you doing? How much sleep did you get the night before? Did anything stressful or important happen that day?

Common migraine triggers

Some common migraine triggers can include:

  • Emotional stress
  • Menstrual periods
  • Changes in normal sleep pattern
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Specific foods and beverages
  • Excess caffeine intake or withdrawal
  • Skipping meals, fasting
  • Changing weather conditions
  • Exercise
  • Smoking
  • Bright and flickering lights
  • Odours

Foods additives and chemicals that can trigger migraines

Natural chemicals in foods, food additives and beverages can also trigger migraines.

These include:

  • Tyramine, a substance found naturally in aged cheeses, and also found in red wine, alcoholic drinks and some processed meats.
  • Food additives/preservatives such as nitrates and nitrites found in ham, sausage and other processed or cured meats, and in salads in salad bars.
  • Monosodium glutamate (MSG) in Chinese food.
  • Alcohol - specifically the impurities in alcohol or by-products your body produces as it metabolises alcohol.

Other common food or beverage migraine triggers:

Some specific foods and drinks are migraine triggers for some people. They include:

  • Aged cheeses: blue cheese, mozzarella, feta, Cheddar, parmesan
  • Alcohol: red wine, beer, whisky, champagne
  • Caffeine: coffee, chocolate, tea, colas and fizzy drinks
  • Pepperoni, sandwich meats, hot dogs
  • Bread and other baked goods
  • Dried fruits
  • Smoked or dried fish
  • Crisps
  • Pizza, peanuts, chicken livers and other specific foods

To avoid your migraine triggers

For people susceptible to migraine triggers the best way to prevent a headache is to avoid the triggers to begin with. Follow these tips:

  • Watch what you eat and drink. If you get a headache, write down any food or drink you had before getting it. If you see a pattern over time, eliminate that item.
  • Eat regularly. Skipping meals can trigger migraines in some people
  • Curb the caffeine. Excess caffeine (in any food or drink) can cause migraines. Be careful: cutting back abruptly may also cause migraines
  • Be careful with exercise. Although doctors advise getting regular exercise to stay healthy, exercise can trigger headaches. You may need to take an anti-inflammatory drug to prevent exercise migraines
  • Get regular sleep. Changes in your normal sleep habits can cause migraines. Being overly tired can also trigger migraines
  • Learn to cope with stress. Emotional upsets and stressful events are common migraine triggers. Anxiety, worry, fatigue and excitement can intensify a migraine's severity. Learn to cope with stress better through counselling and relaxation training.

If you have questions about these migraine triggers, seek medical advice. By taking steps to avoid your triggers, you can take control of your headaches and your life.

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WebMD Medical Reference

Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks on February 20, 2017

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