To sufferers, a migraine is debilitating and can potentially put you out of action for anything from an hour up to several days. Symptoms can include slurred speech, facial and bodily paralysis, loss of coordination, and sensitivity to light, smells, and touch. The best way to avoid migraines is to identify what it is that causes them you and do all you can to avoid them. It will not always be possible to avoid every trigger.
What is a Migraine?
Contrary to popular belief, migraines are not just a “really bad headache”. Although headaches feature in most types, and the major area of symptom is the head, they affect the whole body. There are many different migraine types. Some do not feature headaches at all but still experience the most common symptoms. Usually, they come on through one of many triggers.
What are the Most Common Triggers?
This is not an exhaustive list. It is also not universal; symptoms are poorly understood. Genetics factor strongly – if your parents have them, you have a higher risk of developing migraines. However, it does include those most commonly reported in health questionnaires and reported symptoms from patients.
• Bright lights: Excess light appears to be a strong trigger for most people. Most health professionals will advise lying down in a dark room
• Erratic weather: Many migraine patients report elevated symptoms during stormy weather or days when it’s bright and clear one minute and heavy rain the next
• Hormonal change (women): Women tend to report more migraines during menstruation, menopause and pregnancy
• Sensory overload: This can include strong smells such as citrus and matured cheese, perfume and paint thinner, and cigarette or bonfire smoke
• Caffeine and alcohol: these substances create chemical imbalances
• Erratic sleep patterns: including insomnia and jetlag
• Erratic meal patterns
• Excess weight
Identifying Your Triggers
By now, you probably already have a clear indicator of your triggers. If you’re not sure or have other triggers you’ve so far been unable to identify, there are methods that may help you discover them. They may not all work, but you can help mitigate them in some cases.
Keep a Routine
As many migraine sufferers report episodes when they change their routine, attempt to eat, sleep and wake at the same time every day. If you carry out these basic functions as regular as clockwork, then your eating and sleeping patterns are probably not a trigger. If these changes are triggers, you are able to mitigate them. Routines are comforting and for medical conditions, they enable us to carry on and not forget to take medication.
Keep a Migraine Diary
A migraine diary is a permanent written record you keep every time you have a migraine. You should record: start time, end time, what you ate and drank recently, where you were, and what you were doing. Women should include information on whether you are/recently stopped/will start menstruating. As this is a particularly strong trigger for some, you may find your long-term diary reflects a strong correlation between the two.
Also include information on potential triggers, no matter how tentative. If they come up many times, you potentially have a trigger. If they don’t then the evidence was circumstantial.
Eliminate Food Stuffs
Chocolate, alcohol, caffeine and spicy food are all potential triggers. If you suspect any or all of these may be a migraine trigger for you, aim to eliminate them from your diet. You will need to remove them for a month at a time. If you notice a change in your migraine frequency and patterns after elimination, you have a potential trigger. If nothing changes, then it is not a trigger.