According to the National Headache Foundation, approximately 30 million people in the United States suffer from migraines. While many of those suffering from migraines may think of taking over-the-counter painkillers for some relief, finding out what triggers the migraine may be the better choice.

According Valerie South, Registered Nurse of the World Headache Alliance, migraine triggers are different for everyone. "Triggers are individual, and what affects one person will not necessarily affect another," she says. Since there is currently no cure for migraines, knowing your own migraine triggers is the ticket to controlling your symptoms.

So how do you find out your personal migraine triggers?

Doctors at the Mayo Clinic suggest keeping a headache diary to identify the triggers. For one month, write down what you eat, drink, feel, and do (including sleep patterns). Every time you get a migraine, look back at the preceding 1 to 2 days and see if you can identify any patterns.

10 Common Migraine Triggers

  1. Changes to your daily schedule. This includes not getting enough sleep, oversleeping, or skipping meals. Any change from the norm can trigger a migraine.

  2. Your diet. Foods that contain tyramine are believed to be amongst the worst migraine triggers. This includes foods such as deli meats and aged cheeses. Other foods that have been reported to trigger migraines are chocolate, bananas, and foods with caffeine, aspartame, or MSG.

  3. Too much alcohol. This is common--especially beer and red wine.

  4. Hormonal changes. Studies show that changes in estrogen levels during the menstrual cycle can trigger migraine attacks for some women. Women report headaches immediately before or during their periods, when they have a major drop in estrogen. Other women have an increased tendency to develop migraines during pregnancy or menopause.

  5. Odors. This can include things like cigarette smoke, perfumes, incense, cleaning supplies, and fresh paint.

  6. Lights and sounds. This can include bright lights, sun glare, and flickering lights, as well as loud sounds such as construction work and concerts.

  7. Weather. Changes in the barometric pressure, humidity, and temperature have been reported to trigger migraines in some people. A study led by Dr. Galina Mindlin of Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia found that migraines are more likely when pressure rises.

  8. Dehydration. This is common and probably one of the easiest to avoid.

  9. Stress. Stress at work or home can be a migraine trigger. "Migraineurs don't have any more stress than anybody else. They just can't handle it as well," says Dr. Steven Silberstein, director of the Jefferson Headache Center in Philadelphia.

  10. Physical factors. Intense physical exertion, including sexual activity, has been reported to trigger migraines in some people.

Instead of reaching for the painkillers next time you get a migraine, open up your headache diary and see what may have triggered the onset. Although identifying your migraine triggers may not eliminate all migraine attacks, it will give you more control over your health and help reduce the frequency of your migraines.


Cassels, C. Estrogen "Withdrawal" Triggers Migraine, Rising Levels Have Protective Effect. Medscape Medical News, 2006.

Chitale, Radha. Major Headache? Seven Common Migraine Triggers. ABC News Medical Unit. January 22, 2008.

Kimberly A. Pesaturo, PharmD; Fae G. Wooding, PharmD. Modern Management of the Migraine Headache. American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine. 2009; 3(2):147-159.

Mayo Clinic Staff. Migraine. Mayo Foundation for Medical Information and Education. June 2009. Website:

National Headache Foundation. NHF Headache Facts. February 2008. Website: