15 Migraine Triggers You Need to Know About

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The prevalence of migraines

If you’re one of the 2.7 million Canadians who experience migraines, you know how much agony they can bring to your day. One moment you’re totally fine, and the next you’re on your back in a dark room begging your brain to stop thundering against your eye sockets. Many people also struggle to find the right treatment, which means stopping an attack isn’t as easy as downing a couple pills. The ultimate goal is to stop a migraine before it starts. Identifying your triggers—or what sets off an attack—can help you manage the frequency of your headaches.

“We believe and have evidence that migraineurs have hypervigilant nervous systems. Their nervous system is always on alert, and it doesn’t like change,” says Merle Diamond, MD, president and medical director of Diamond Headache Clinic in Chicago. This means you’re more sensitive to changes in the environment, whether it be to the weather, the food you eat, or a disruption in your routine. “The way you participate in self-care can impact the number of attacks you have,” she says. She’s not talking about bubble baths (though stress relief is important). If you get migraines, maintaining a healthy routine is the ultimate form of self-care.

Here’s how to find your triggers and what to do about them.

(Related: Am I Having a Headache or a Migraine? And More Migraine Questions, Answered)

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What are migraines?

Migraine is a type of headache. But don’t confuse the two—there’s a difference between a migraine and a headache. Typically, but not always, migraine pain will be one-sided and feel like intense throbbing. It may also come with other symptoms, like nausea, light sensitivity, and even a runny nose.

Some of the more common  types of migraine include:

Migraine with aura

Also called a complicated migraine, these are accompanied by auras, or sensory and visual changes that occur before a migraine attack.

You might see zigzag lines across your vision, notice bright spots, or even have vision loss in spots. Maybe you go numb on one side of your body, or your muscles go weak. Some people may have difficulty speaking.

Migraine without aura

Also called a common migraine, this type involves throbbing pain on one side of the head, aversion to light and sound, and/or nausea and vomiting.

Migraine without head pain

Though most people think of migraines as supercharged headaches (and they often are), you can experience aura and symptoms like nausea without head pain.

Hemiplegic migraine

This type of migraine feels like a stroke. Symptoms strike one side of the body, so you might feel weakness in the muscles of your left side only, for instance.

Retinal migraine

If you temporarily lose vision in one eye during a migraine, you’re having a retinal migraine.

Chronic migraine

When you have more than 15 headache days per month, your condition is considered chronic migraines.

Ice pick headaches

Migraines that come with intense pain that makes you feel as if you’re being stabbed with an ice pick are aptly named ice pick headaches.

Cluster headaches

This type of severe headache is characterized by burning pain around much of your head, as well as swollen eyes and a runny nose.

Cervicogenic headache

Spinal lesions create pain in your neck that causes head pain. That’s what happens in the case of cervicogenic headaches.

(Related: Home Remedies That Will Make Your Headache Disappear)

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