When you experience a severe headache accompanied by flashes of light, blurred vision, nausea, and at times diarrhoea, you are not bestowed with a revelation, but a migraine. Headaches are common but not all headaches are migraines. A migraine occurs when the blood vessels around the head and neck get enlarged and there is an increase in supply of nerve fibres.
Certain factors can trigger migraine, but these triggers may not be same for everyone, and not every time. For this reason, migraine triggers can be frustrating to hunt down. You must recognise these activators and proceed with caution around them to save yourself a big headache!
Migraines could occur for various reasons, such as allergic reaction to certain foods or smells. It could start due to changes in one’s sleep patterns or sudden excessive bouts of exercise, which jolt the body’s mechanisms. Some common triggers for a migraine are:
These are two amino acids that are hidden in certain foods like chocolates, aged or fermented cheese, soy foods, nuts, citrus fruits, vinegar, pickled foods and fermented foods like dosa, dhokla and idlis. Tyramine is not added to foods but its levels increase in foods that are aged, fermented, stored for long periods of time, or are not fresh.
Any type of alcohol causes dehydration, which is a major cause of headaches. Dehydration can put the brain activity in trouble by reducing blood flow to the brain. Alcohol also increases blood flow to the brain thereby, dilating the blood vessels and causing headaches.
Found in packaged foods like hot dogs, noodles, and Chinese food, additives like sodium nitrates and MSG used to either flavour the food or increase its shelf life can trigger headaches because they dilate the blood vessels in the brain.
A drop in estrogen during menstrual cycle is believed to be the culprit. For many women, the menstrual cycle is a major trigger. Attacks usually occur a few days before or during their period or, for some women, at ovulation. For the same reason, menopausal women also suffer migraines.
Strong smell like that of perfumes or flickering lights, even a movie screen in a darkened theatre or sunshine flashing through the trees on a road can prove to be a challenge for the migraine sufferers. Change in weather can also trigger a sinus attack and cause pulsating headaches.
Not getting enough sleep or having poor sleep habits can trigger migraines or cause occasional migraines to become frequent. Pain researchers from Missouri State University reported that rats deprived of a good night’s sleep showed changes in the expression of key proteins that suppress and trigger chronic pain.
The most common migraine trigger is stress. Migraine sufferers are thought to be highly responsive emotionally. Anxiety, worry, shock, and sadness can all release certain brain chemicals that lead to a migraine headache. The sense of release after a stressful period can also lead to migraines, which could be the cause of weekend headaches.
Though caffeine is used in a lot of over-the-counter medications to treat migraines, excessive consumption can be harmful. It causes dehydration and lack of water means loss of electrolytes; an electrolyte imbalance can lead to wrong nerve signals in the brain.
Sulphites, another preservative, are commonly found in most dried fruits (including prunes, figs, and apricots), wine (white and red), and many processed foods. Check labels carefully to avoid this sneaky migraine trigger.
Some people report that aspartame, a common artificial sweetener, can also be a migraine trigger. Take note when partaking of diet beverages, light yogurts, sugar-free candies, low-calorie desserts, and other foods and beverages made with this artificial sweetener to see whether they are a migraine trigger for you.
Remember that triggers are different for everyone, so the foods and stressors here are a list of suspects, not convicts: You need to narrow it down to your own personal triggers. Try keeping a headache diary to help you identify the ones that trouble you.
Read more articles on Migraine Prevention.