find your migraine triggers

Discover Your Migraine Triggers

For Laura L., being sidelined by a headache is, well, a headache. “It’s bad enough that my head won’t stop throbbing, but when I get a migraine I’m basically down for the count.”

Migraines are the most common type of headache. In fact, explains Virtua neurologist Steven Bromley, MD, headache specialists classify a typical recurrent headache as a migraine until proven otherwise, regardless of headache severity, timing and, quality. More than just a bad headache, a migraine can often come with associated symptoms such as hypersensitivity to light and sound, nausea and vomiting, abdominal pain, feelings of unsteadiness or dizziness, blurred vision, and difficulties with concentration. Your headache triggers may include lack of sleep, stress, illness and some foods and food additives.

The accepted wisdom on headaches in women often leads back to the cyclical turbulence that can come with monthly hormone fluctuations. “Interestingly, women outnumber men by about 2 to 1 when it comes to migraines,” says Dr. Bromley. “The reasons for this are not entirely clear. While the same underlying electrochemical causes for migraine are in place for both sexes, the inherited tendency to have a migraine and the underlying trigger may be more severe in women. It has been well-established that hormones can have a dramatic influence on migraines.”

As Dr. Bromley explains, fluctuations in hormones such as estrogen and progesterone have an influence on electrical activity in an around the brain. This can result in a migraine when a women is premenstrual, pregnant (particularly in the beginning of a pregnancy or just after), or in menopause.

“Headaches are individualized experiences, and there isn’t a single pill to get rid of them all. While it’s clear that people express their headaches in different ways and can have very different triggers, they also respond differently to medication therapies,” Dr. Bromley explains.

Figuring out which over-the-counter treatment works for you may take some experimentation. Pills containing naproxen sodium, aspirin, caffeine, or acetaminophen can target target inflammation and nerve activation in the brain and brain lining that makes your skull feel like it’s caving in, but don’t use these medications daily for long periods, as they can lead to other problems. Prescription triptans—another class of migraine medication—or prescribed daily treatments can prevent and target migraines more specifically.

If your headaches are persistent, brand new, or get in the way of your life, talk to your doctor, as these may be signs of something more serious. For the more manageable ones, tending to the mind-body connection with a healthy diet, supplements such as magnesium and vitamin B12, and physical activities such as exercise, yoga, and meditation can really help you get your brain back to where it belongs—at peace.

Updated June 6, 2016