What is a migraine? Why migraine happens. Who gets migraines? Treating migraines.

Don't Set Me Off

An Inherited Sensitivity

A migraine sufferer has a sensitive nervous system. The medical community believes that this touchy sensitivity to certain stimuli is an inherited quality. In any event, this increased response means that the sufferer responds to specific aggravating factors by developing migraine headaches. These factors that activate a migraine are called triggers.

Good for the Gander?

Triggers are not a cause of migraine; rather they set off a preexisting condition. In the case of migraine triggers, what's good for the goose is not always good for the gander. That means that different migraine sufferers respond to different triggers and a migraine sufferer may not respond to the same trigger that brought on a migraine in the past. Still, it may be possible to identify your personal triggers by keeping a headache diary. If a pattern develops, you may be able to avoid your triggers, thereby reducing your chances of having a migraine headache.

Here are some of the more common migraine triggers:

Bright, flashing, or glaring lights, fluorescent lighting

Computer, movie, or television screens

Eyestrain-Make sure eyeglass prescriptions stay current.

Fatigue, becoming overtired

High altitude, airplane travel

Hormones-Changes in estrogen levels due to ovulation, menstrual cycle, birth control pills, hormone replacement therapy, perimenopause, menopause.


Medication-Overuse (more than 2 days a week) of over-the-counter pain medications may cause rebound headaches. Missed medication doses and certain medications (for instance nitroglycerine and indomethacin) can cause headaches.

Odors and pollution-Chemicals and scented cleaning products, perfume, smog, smoke

Physical overexertion-Especially when out of shape, exercising in hot weather, marathon running

Skipping meals and fasting

Sleep pattern changes, napping, oversleeping, not enough sleep

Specific foods-Chocolate, red wine, yeast breads and cakes, blue cheese, processed meats, MSG, nitrates, additives, Nutrasweet, meat tenderizer, nutritional yeast, fermented, cultured, and marinated products, pumpkin, sesame, and sunflower seeds, nuts, excessive niacin and Vitamin A (more than 25,000 IU per day), canned stock and bouillon cubes, soy sauce, autolytic or killed yeast, cultured dairy products, Figs, raisins, papayas, avocados (especially when overripe), red plums, overripe bananas, legumes, raw garlic and onion

Stress-Periods of high stress, including life changes. Accumulated stress. Quick or easy reaction to stress. Repressed emotions. Anxiety, depression, excitement, loss and grief, mental fatigue, shock, and worry. Unrealistic expectations, milestone occasions such as weddings. Completing a project, exam, presentation, or paper. Sudden easing of stress, for instance, having a restful weekend or vacation.

Weather and temperature changes-Extreme heat or cold, humidity, barometric pressure changes.