A migraine is usually characterised by a throbbing pain or an intense, pulsating sensation in the head, usually accompanied by a number of other debilitating symptoms including nausea. Dr Samantha Nicholson, medical internist at Imani Medical Centre, Papine Plaza, said that while there is no research to support an exact cause of the severe headaches, there have been a number of factors which have been identified as triggers.
“A number of things can induce a migraine, and so it is very important that a person takes care to note things such as what they ate, the environment, sometimes the weather, smells or fragrances, for example, which they were exposed to prior to or at the time when they experienced their migraines that they can track,” she explained.
Dr Nicholson pointed out that a person suffering from a migraine may notice that they experience, though not in all cases, four stages of suffering. It may start with warning symptoms of an impending migraine like constipation, or stiffness in the neck. Then there is the aura, which can occur just before or during headaches, and involves symptoms such visual disturbances, numbness in the face, flashing lights and lightheadedness. With the headache, each episode has the ability to last between hours and days and may affect one side of or the entire head with other symptoms such as vomiting and sensitivity to light, sound, smell and touch. The final stage, the postdome, encapsulates events following the attack, where the person may experience a feeling of lethargy, dizziness and moodiness.
Dr Nicholson said that migraine triggers can be difficult to hunt down because they may be unique to individuals and may change over time. But the most common triggers that you may want to add to your list of things to avoid include:
Your diet/food choices
Your food choices could be playing a significant role in the number of migraine episodes you experience. There has been a link seen between the onset of a migraine and foods such as artificial sweeteners, salt, citrus juices, pizza, cheese, processed foods and food additives or preservatives such as monosodium glutamate (MSG). Skipping meals and dehydration have also been identified as possible triggers.
The menstrual cycle
Women who are menstruating generally complain of migraine attacks during this period. This is due to hormonal changes. Similarly, there is also a pattern of women developing migraines or experiencing increased flare-ups during pregnancy or menopause. This would suggest that the changes in the balances of hormones could be a major trigger.
Alcohol drinkers, but in particular those who abuse it, generally tend to complain about frequent migraines. Wine and drinks that have a high concentration of caffeine, in particular, have also been noted among common triggers.
Extreme physical/emotional factors
Whether it is that you are pushing your body too much at the gym or you become extremely emotional, for example, where you get upset to the point of tears or when you are extremely angry, these can aggravate migraines.
Stress, no matter the source, has been highlighted as migraine-inducing. It is suspected that since migraine sufferers tend to be highly responsive emotionally, even a slight shift in levels of stress from a mild case of tension and anxiety can prompt the release of chemicals in the brain which will trigger an attack.
Some medications, especially those which are hormone-based such as oral contraceptives and vasodilators such as nitroglycerin, can induce migraines.
Your environment, especially when out of balance, can also contribute to the onset of a migraine. From the bright lights to loud sounds and noises to strong smells or fragrances from colognes, exhaust from a car or even a freshly painted space, these can trigger a migraine. This is why many migraine sufferers tend to feel better when in a dark room and when they use light body sprays instead of perfumes or colognes.
This list, according to Dr Nicholson, is just the tip of an exhausted list of triggers that people have mentioned. People tend to have many unique triggers and this is why keeping a journal is very important. She said this is particularly important because staying away from identified triggers should reduce attacks and lessen your need for and possible misuse of prescribed medication.