Pharmacy Corner
Migraines: What a Pain! What causes a migraine?

A migraine is caused by a trigger. A trigger is an event, a change in your environment or a physical act which results in a migraine.3 It occurs shortly before the migraine attack.1

Diet

Did you know?

Did You Know?

Stress is considered the #1 migraine trigger.7

Common triggers1
  • Too much or too little sleep
  • If you are very tired or exhausted
  • Too much stress
  • Hormonal changes in women (e.g. migraines are most common around your period)
  • Changes in weather
  • Staring at a computer screen for too long
  • Missing meals
  • Certain foods
  • Drinking too much caffeine or suddenly stopping caffeine
  • Drinking alcohol
  • Dehydration
  • Strenuous exercise in someone who isn’t used to it (although regular exercise might help prevent migraine attacks)

Do I need to avoid all of these triggers even if they don’t cause a migraine attack?

No. These are just a list of common triggers that have been shown to cause migraines in migraine sufferers. Migraine triggers are different for everybody. Your migraine triggers might not be on the list above. That is why it is helpful to start a trigger diary to help keep track of the things that trigger your migraines.

Examples of food triggers

What you eat and drink is responsible for causing up to 30% of migraines.7 Changes to your diet can lower how often you have a migraine. Foods that contain tyramine, which is a natural substance that is found in some foods, might trigger a migraine in some people. Other substances that are present in food that can cause migraines are nitrates, monosodium glutamate (MSG), and phenylalanine.

Diet

Tip!

Tip!

Click here for some diet ideas that are low in tyramine

Common food triggers7
  • Aged cheeses
  • Smoked fish and meat
  • Deli meats, hot dogs, bacon, sausage
  • Overripe bananas
  • Beans, sauerkraut, pickles and olives
  • Nuts
  • Avocados
  • Soy foods
  • Vinegar (red and balsamic)
  • Chocolate
  • Artificial sweeteners
  • Chili peppers
  • Coffee and tea
  • Beer and wine

Will eating these foods trigger a migraine every time?

No, not every food listed in the table will cause a headache in every migraine sufferer.5 The foods that trigger your migraines can be very different than the ones listed. Even if a food causes a migraine it might only do this when combined with another migraine triggers, such as stress.5 It might also depend on how much of the food you ate and when you ate it.8 Sometimes you might not get a migraine for several days after you ate the trigger food.7

How do I figure out what my triggers are?

Finding your triggers can be challenging. The best way to do this is by keeping a headache diary. A headache diary is a way to keep track of patterns that occur every time you experience a migraine headache.

You should record information about the headache, such as how painful it was, if you experienced any other symptoms (such as nausea), what you did to help relieve the pain, if it worked, and anything from the last 24 hours that could have triggered the headache. By recording this information every time you get a headache, you can start to identify patterns and find your triggers.

When trying to identify triggers, here are some things that might be helpful to consider:1

  • What you did during the day (e.g. worked, watched tv, went to the movies, etc)
  • Changes in how you slept
  • Changes to your diet
  • When you ate / if you skipped any meals
  • Your mood / stressful events
  • What the weather was like
  • Your menstrual cycle (for women)
  • Anything else you can think of that is a changing part of your lifestyle (e.g. started exercising, cut back on caffeine, started a new job, etc)