Migraine Triggers

What’s a Migraine Trigger? Martin and Behbehani (2001) defines migraine trigger as ‘…any factor that on exposure or withdrawal leads to the development of an acute migraine headache.’ Now, I think this definition is correct and incorrect in a few ways. The mention of ‘exposure or withdrawal’ is important, because some triggers can affect you in their absence, like the caffeine withdrawal headache you get after drinking coffee. However, I find the implication that any trigger will ‘lead to the development of an acute migraine headache’ to be somewhat misleading. Not every trigger will result in a migraine every single time it’s encountered. (Also, not every migraine involves headache or is acute.) Instead, migraine triggers will push you closer to your migraine threshold– your genetically pre-determined trigger tolerance level. There are a number of triggers that contribute to the occurrence of migraine. These triggers can be categorized into 4 major categories:


  • Mood
    • Stress, Crying, etc.
  • Changes in Sleep
    • Duration: Over-sleeping or under-sleeping
    • Sleep Disturbance: Poor sleep quality
  • Exercise
    • Lack of physical activity or over-exertion/strenuous exercise
  • Lifestyle/Illness
    • Obesity, Cigarette Smoking, Respiratory Infections, etc.


  • Weather
    • Temperature (Heat)
    • Humidity
    • Barometric Pressure Changes
  • Light/Visual Stimulation
    • Flickering lights, Uneven lighting, etc.
  • Odors
    • Strong perfumes, etc.

Dietary / Chemical

  • Chemicals encountered in food products including:
    • Tyramine, MSG, Aspartame, Preservatives, Additives, Histamine, etc.


  • Menstruation, Menopause, Oral Contraceptives, etc.