Skip to Content

Migraines: Finding and Avoiding Triggers

Introduction

The best way to manage migraine headaches is to avoid them. And to avoid them, you need to know what things (or triggers) bring them on. By finding and avoiding your triggers, you can limit how often you get migraines and how bad they are.

Try to avoid as many triggers as you can. Triggers add up, so the fewer you have at one time, the better your chance of preventing a migraine.

To manage your migraines:

  • Use a headache diaryheadache diary(What is a PDF document?) to find your migraine triggers.
  • Make sure you sleep, exercise, and eat on a regular schedule.
  • Don't eat foods that are likely to trigger a migraine.
  • Manage stress.
  • Avoid smoking and secondhand smoke.

How do you identify and avoid headache triggers?

You can find out what your triggers are by keeping a headache diary and trying to follow a routine every day.

Use a headache diary

In a headache diaryheadache diary(What is a PDF document?), you write down:

  • What you eat and drink.
  • What type of exercise you do and when you do it.
  • The overall state of your health.
  • What the weather is like (hot or cold, rainy).
  • Other things that might affect your headaches, such as strong feelings or stressful events.
  • When you get a headache and how bad it is.
  • What medicine you take when you get a headache, and how well it works.

Over time, you may see a pattern to your headaches. For example, maybe you get a headache after you drink wine or eat a certain food.

It may take only a few months before you can find your headache triggers. When you find your triggers, you can take steps to avoid them.

Keep to a daily routine

Doing the same things every day and at the same times can help you find triggers. If you change your routine and get a migraine, then you may have found a trigger. To keep a routine, try to:

  • Get regular exercise. If you do have a migraine while you exercise, write down the activity you were doing, the weather, and what you ate that day.
  • Keep regular sleep patterns. Sleeping too much or too little can trigger migraines. If you do get a headache when your sleep pattern has changed, this may be a trigger that you can control.
  • Watch what you eat. Many foods—such as cheese, red wine, chocolate, and foods or drinks with caffeine—are migraine triggers. If you think something you ate could have triggered a migraine, you may want to try to avoid that food for a few months to see if your headaches get better.
  • Eat regularly. Skipping meals leads to migraines in many people. Try to eat on a regular schedule.
  • Drink plenty of fluids, enough so that your urine is light yellow or clear like water. This is especially important when you exercise. Not getting enough water can trigger a headache.
  • Manage your stress as best you can. Many people get a migraine after a stressful event is over. You may not be able to control stressful events, but you may be able to control how you react to them. Relaxation exercises or biofeedback may help reduce your stress level.

You can't control some triggers, such as changes in the weather and in your hormones (during pregnancy or menstrual cycles). But knowing that these things trigger your migraines may help you have a plan in place when you are around your triggers.

Triggers add up, so if you can limit your triggers, you may be able to prevent a headache or reduce the pain when you get one. For example, if it's hot outside (and hot weather is a trigger for you), make sure to drink enough water so that you don't get dehydrated. While you're in the heat, you also may want to avoid any foods that you know are triggers for you.

Credits

By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer Anne C. Poinier, MD - Internal Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Colin Chalk, MD, CM, FRCPC - Neurology
Current as of March 12, 2014

This information does not replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information. Your use of this information means that you agree to the Terms of Use. How this information was developed to help you make better health decisions.

© 1995-2014 Healthwise, Incorporated. Healthwise, Healthwise for every health decision, and the Healthwise logo are trademarks of Healthwise, Incorporated.

Section Links

Health Library

  • Migraines: Finding and Avoiding Triggers