Science has never truly been able to pin down the exact reasons why we experience migraines. Many of us will know from our own experiences that certain factors can trigger this often debilitating condition, but with so much conflicting anecdotal evidence, how do we know what to change in order to combat the problem?
If you’ve been getting migraines lately and you aren’t sure what has been causing them, have a look at our list to see if anything rings true for you.
1. Hormonal changes in women
Studies have found that migraines affect women at a rate three times higher than they affect men. On average, 1 in 5 women are plagued by migraines compared to 1 in 15 men. The difference is likely due to the hormonal fluctuations that women experience throughout their menstrual cycle.
Many women who suffer from menstrual related migraines will experience them in the few days before or after their cycle, but others experience them at other times within the month. It may be useful to keep a diary of your menstrual cycle and any migraines you experience – if they seem to occur at a regular time each month, it is likely that they are triggered by the fluctuations of oestrogen in your body.
For many women, migraines symptoms abate once they experience the menopause. On the flip side, the menopause can also trigger migraines in women who have never experienced them before, or even make them worse for long-term sufferers.
2. Emotional triggers
Migraines can also be triggered by a wide range of emotions, regardless of gender. Perhaps most commonly, stress and anxiety are emotions which can trigger migraines in some people, with those suffering from depression or anxiety disorders reporting increased experience of migraines. Shock and even sometimes excitement are also potential triggers. It can be hard to pin down exactly which emotion is making you ill, so it may be useful to think about the events surrounding your migraine in more general terms.
Planning a holiday and getting bad news, for example, may seem like completely separate events on the surface – however, more generally, they can both be described as stressful. Thinking in this way may help you establish what has been causing your migraines.
3. Physical triggers
It is not just strong emotions that can cause migraines – physical factors can also be potential triggers. Sleep, or lack thereof, is one major cause of migraines amongst many people. Whether it is poor quality sleep – think an uncomfortable position or many interruptions – or just plain exhaustion, many people report that tiredness is a migraine trigger for them.
Shift workers, or other people who sleep irregularly, can experience migraines a lot more than other people for this reason. Even jet lag can result in a migraine! Some types of joint pain, such as that in the neck or shoulder which is caused by poor posture, can cause tension and lead to migraines too. It is also worth pointing out that strenuous exercise, for those who are unfit or otherwise not used to working out, can potentially trigger migraines and other health problems. For that reason, it is best to start slowly when exercising for the first time or after a long break or injury.
4. Dietary triggers
Perhaps an easier trigger to pin down is food. Eating certain foods can cause almost immediate migraines for some people. Chocolate, caffeine, citrus fruits and even alcohol are common triggers, but some are a little harder to avoid.
The food additive tyramine, found in pork and fermented foods such as aged cheese, soy products and yoghurt, has been linked to migraines in people who are sensitive to it. As it is tyramine which is linked to migraines, not the food which contains it, many people do not realise that they have this sensitivity. If you’re experiencing migraines at mealtimes but can’t link them to one particular food, try cutting down on tyramine-rich foods and see if it makes a difference.
Other less-specific dietary triggers include dehydration and missed or irregular meals.
5. Environmental triggers
For some people, migraines may occur due to changes in the environment. Flashing, bright lights or flickering screens are common triggers for both migraine sufferers and people with other neurological disorders such as epilepsy. Additionally, strong smells, smoke and generally stuffy environments can cause migraine attacks.
Even environmental changes more generally, such as high humidity or the cold, can be a problem for some people. Much like with the other triggers, it is important to consider every aspect of the atmosphere surrounding your migraine – even something as mundane as the weather. This could be key in figuring out why you’re experiencing this potentially incapacitating problem.
Whatever you may attribute your migraines to, it is important never to suffer in silence. Take a look at our migraine medications such as Sumatriptan and Zomig today. Or why not consult with one of our experienced pharmacists for more valuable advice and information?