What causes a migraine and how to avoid it

If you suffer from migraines, you will know just how debilitating they can be.

They can come on quickly with some sufferers having to go to bed for a full day to overcome it. Although the exact cause of migraines is unknown it is believed that chemicals in the brain and changes to them can cause the onset of a migraine.

But what other triggers can cause one and can they be avoided?

Triggers are different for everyone and identifying your own personal triggers can be difficult. Getting a migraine diary and keeping note after each migraine is a great place to start when trying to work out what your triggers are.

You should include things like-

  • The time of day you got a migraine
  • The type of migraine you experienced
  • The food and drink you had that day
  • How you have been sleeping
  • Any meds you had taken that day
  • What stage of your menstrual cycle you are at (for women)
  • The weather, pressure changes and thunderstorms


Stress is a common trigger for some. The physical symptoms of stress especially can cause a migraine. This can include holding tension in your neck or shoulders, putting too much pressure on yourself, or demanding exercise. Strong emotions like sadness, excitement, anxiety, shock or tension as well as any stress may also lead to a migraine.


Sleep is also a major trigger for migraine, changes in sleep patterns and interrupted sleep can also make a migraine more frequent. Getting a good night’s rest is vital in avoiding a migraine as too much or too little sleep could trigger too.



Unfortunately some of most people’s food favourites can trigger a migraine including chocolate, cheese and most other dairy, citrus fruits and seafood. Another trigger you may want to avoid are additives, like the sweetener aspartame and the preservative MSG. Caffeine and alcohol can also be migraine triggers.

When you are suffering from a migraine you may not be able to eat or drink or want to, but be mindful that dehydration and low blood sugar from a lack of food, can both cause a migraine.

Sensory stimuli  

Sensory stimuli are anything that affect your 5 senses. Different types of these stimuli may trigger a migraine –

  • Bright lights
  • Loud sounds
  • Strong smells
  • Flickering lights


Some medications can also be a trigger-

Some sleeping tablets

  • Some contraceptive pills
  • Hormone replacement therapy (HRT)

Menstrual Cycle


The hormones oestrogen and progesterone are common triggers for a lot of women. Some women are more sensitive to the fluctuations of these hormones within the menstrual cycle which in turn may have an impact on migraine.

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