Headache Home > Migraine Triggers

Anxiety, lack of food or sleep, and weather changes are among the things that are thought to be possible triggers of migraine headaches. Of all the potential triggers, however, stress is the most common. The type of stress that is most likely to cause migraine headaches is the day-to-day stress that comes from trying to juggle our many roles in life. Migraine prevention begins with finding out what events or lifestyle factors set off your headaches -- and then trying to avoid or limit them.

An Overview of Migraine Triggers

A number of things are thought to trigger migraine headaches. Following are some general rules related to these triggers:
 
  • Not all potential migraine triggers will actually trigger a headache in anyone susceptible to migraines
  • Exposure to a known trigger for a particular person does not guarantee that person will have a migraine headache in every situation
  • Most migraines are not thought to be caused by a single trigger.
     

Possible Triggers of Migraines

Many things can cause a migraine. Some possible triggers include:
 
 
Several research studies have attempted to help define these triggers and how often they occur. A recent study of 1,207 migraine sufferers published in the May 2007 edition of Cephalagia found the following migraine triggers and trigger frequencies:
 
  • Stress –- in 79.7 percent of people
  • Hormones in women -- 65.1 percent
  • Not eating -- 57.3 percent
  • Weather -- 53.2 percent
  • Sleep disturbance -- 49.9 percent
  • Perfume or odor -- 43.7 percent
  • Neck pain -- 38.4 percent
  • Light(s) -- 38.1 percent
  • Alcohol -- 37.8 percent
  • Smoke -- 35.7 percent
  • Sleeping late -- 32.0 percent
  • Heat -- 30.3 percent
  • Food -- 26.9 percent
  • Exercise -- 22.1 percent
  • Sexual activity -- 5.2 percent.
     
In this study, about 75 percent of people reported identifiable triggers for their migraines. Forty percent of people said that the trigger caused migraines infrequently, 27 percent of people said it caused them frequently, and 9 percent said it caused them very frequently. These researchers also found that when triggers were involved, the migraine was more likely to be severe. The researchers noticed a number of differences among the migraines that people reported.
 
Other migraine research studies have shown similar triggers. However, the frequencies with which these migraine triggers were involved have differed. This is to be expected, since triggers do vary from one person to the next.
 
Written by/reviewed by:
Last reviewed by: Arthur Schoenstadt, MD
Last updated/reviewed:
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