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Migraine Causes and Triggers

The reasons for a migraine attack are not yet well understood. Changes in the trigeminal nerve pathway (the main sensory nerve of the face and motor nerve for the muscles used in chewing) are believed to result in the release of chemicals that dilate the blood vessels in the outer covering of the brain (called meninges). This causes a headache. Imbalances in other chemicals, such as serotonin, may also contribute to a migraine.

Although the causes for a migraine headache remain elusive, you may find that certain triggers initiate or worsen a migraine. Some of these common triggers include:

  • Hormonal changes: A fluctuation in oestrogen levels may initiate a migraine attack. Many women complain that their migraine symptoms worsen before or during their menstrual periods, during pregnancy and menopause, and while taking hormonal medication.

  • Foods: Migraines may be triggered by the consumption of chocolate, alcohol, cheese, caffeine-rich drinks, monosodium glutamate (MSG) and aspartame.

  • Sensations: Bright and flashing lights, sun glare, and unusual smells and odours have also been known to initiate a migraine.

  • Other: Stress, changes in the sleep pattern or the environment, fasting, and physical exertion are all believed to be migraine triggers for different people.

Migraine Headache - Avoiding the Triggers

One of the first steps in managing migraines is to identify your migraine triggers and try to avoid them. By identifying migraine triggers, you will be able to spot the warning signs and therefore control the migraine attack more effectively.

You can quite often abort a migraine attack by taking a pain killer or your migraine medicine as soon as you notice the first symptoms and the often accompanying aura.

Here are some ways that you can identify triggers and prevent or at least manage your migraine. .

  • Keep a diary for a few weeks to identify trigger points

  • Avoid any food you find brings on an attack. Common dietary triggers of migraine include red wine, cheese (especially matured cheese) and chocolate.

  • Eat regularly, missing a meal can trigger an attack.

  • Follow regular sleep pattern if possible, because changing it may trigger an attack.

  • If stress is a trigger you may find it useful to try relaxation techniques. 

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