Can You Relate? 8 Community Members Share Their Migraine Triggers

Curated by Claudia Shannon / Research Scientist / ishonest

If you live with migraine, you can likely relate to the frustration of not knowing what is to blame for your attacks.

While doctors and healthcare researchers aren’t sure exactly what causes migraine, they do know that there are many factors or triggers that can induce a migraine episode.

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Migraine triggers can be difficult to identify. It can often take people with migraine many years to figure out their triggers.

For many people, migraine episodes aren’t provoked by one specific trigger, but by a combination of factors.

Common factors believed to contribute to migraine attacks include lack of sleep, stress, dehydration, and changes in hormones.

Many people also find that certain foods may impact the frequency or severity of migraine episodes.

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In addition, the timing and amount of food you eat — particularly, fasting or not eating frequently enough — may trigger a migraine.

If you believe your diet may be contributing to your migraine attacks, speaking to a registered dietitian or keeping a food diary can help you start to narrow down what your trigger foods may be.

There are also several apps for tracking migraine symptoms and triggers that can also help you get to the bottom of what is causing your attacks.

It can also be helpful to hear from others about what their migraine triggers are. Eight members of the Migraine ishonest community shared their more common, and most frustrating, migraine triggers.

Strong smells

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“Sometimes I’ll come in contact with a strong scent like walking into a room with scented candles that makes my migraine worse. The smell can even linger on my clothes and hair and I can’t get away from it even after I leave.

“Sometimes when I ask my family, they say they don’t smell anything. Either I smell things that aren’t there, or I have an incredibly sensitive sense of smell!” — Valinda Rees

The dentist

“One of my own triggers is going to the dentist. I was there yesterday afternoon for only 20 minutes to get a temporary crown adjusted, but that was enough to trigger a migraine.” — Lexi

A mix of foods and spices

“I have recently discovered some foods and spices that trigger my migraine attacks every single time. I’ve been watching it for a while now and documenting it to make sure I wasn’t just imagining it. They are:

  • raw onion or onion powder (cooked onion doesn’t bother me)
  • any garlic or garlic powder
  • ranch seasoning (ranch dressing doesn’t bother me)
  • dairy
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“These things seem to trigger a migraine every single time within about 30 minutes after eating them.” — Tabitha Porter

Bright lights

“One trigger for me has always been bright light. More smells are triggers for me now. I used to wear perfumes, but I really can’t anymore.” — Claudann

Lack of sleep and hormone changes

“My biggest triggers are lack of sleep, stress, and hormone imbalances. Sometimes dehydration and rainy weather too.

“I track my attacks on the Migraine Buddy app which has helped me to identify my triggers.

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“As I get older, I’ve found that bright lights in big stores like Costco can be a trigger as well.” — Lori L.

Stress and intense emotions

“I don’t exactly have triggers because my pain and neurological symptoms are 24/7. The severity just increases or decreases — it never goes away.

“There are things that make migraine worse like weather, stress or intense emotions. More typical things like light, smell, and sounds also aggravate my symptoms.” — Courtney Lynn

Weather changes

“I am very much affected by weather triggers. Heat and pressure changes are probably the worst of the bunch. I always wear a hat and sunglasses outdoors, which helps a little.” — Darcy

A combination of variables

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No.202 - Prevent Elasticity Damage

“I’ve narrowed it down a lot over the years, a few foods, stress letdown, barometric pressure, probably some nutritional factors.

“It’s always some combination. I’m never able to know the exact trigger for a specific attack.” — LeahBee

The bottom line

It is important to remember that when it comes to migraine triggers, everyone is different. Some people may find that time after time their migraine attacks can be linked to a very specific trigger.

For many others, migraine attacks are caused by a complex combination of many different factors. Because of this, it can be a challenge to pinpoint exactly what your own triggers are.

Your triggers can also vary day-to-day and may change as you get older.

If you want to connect with other people who understand the frustration of understanding migraine triggers, the Migraine ishonest community is a great place to start.

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