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Most people who are familiar with migraines have heard of “triggers.” A “trigger” is something, usually an external atmosphere or force, which consistently brings about the onset of a migraineur. Like all aspects of migraine, triggers are highly individualized.

Despite its potential use for treating migraines, the concept of a “trigger” is potentially harmful for migraineurs. The idea that some external force causes the migraine creates a false impression that migraines are something which may be controlled, or cured, simply by avoiding whatever personalized triggers a migraineur has. This is patently false. Even if a person could avoid all of their triggers 24/7, they would still have the underlying neurological condition of migraine. Additionally, there are some migraines where the trigger is almost impossible to identify, assuming there is one at all.

Still, for those with identifiable triggers, it may be possible to reduce the frequency of migraines. Medical professionals often provide migraineurs with headache “diaries” to track possible triggers. A list of common triggers is below, though it is possible to have migraines that are not caused by any of the following. As you will see, this list can largely be summed up by three words: change is bad.

List of Possible Triggers


  • Alcohol[1]
  • Aspartame[1]
  • Avocado[1]
  • Bananas[1]
  • Chocolate
  • Dairy Products[1]
  • Fermented Foods[1]
  • Herring [1]
  • Monosodium glutamate (MSG)[1]
  • Nuts, Peanut Butter[1]
  • Onions[1]
  • Pickled Foods[1]
  • Processed/Cured Meat
  • Red Wine (Tannins)[1]
  • Sour Cream[1]
  • Yogurt[1]

Air Pollutants/Odors

  • Perfume
  • Gasoline
  • Smoke
  • Pollen

Habit/Lifestyle Changes

  • Changes in Sleep Patterns
    • Lack of sleep
    • Excessive sleep
  • Changes in Diet
    • Skipping meals
  • Dehydration
  • Changes in Stress Levels
  • Changes in Exercising
    • Overexertion
    • Lack of exercise



  1. 1.00 1.01 1.02 1.03 1.04 1.05 1.06 1.07 1.08 1.09 1.10 1.11 1.12 1.13 1.14 Tepper, Stewart J., M.D. Understanding Migraine and Other Headaches. UP of Mississippi, 2004, p. 67-68.
  2. "Research Ties Lightning to Onset of Headache, Migraines." Katie Pence, UC Health News; January 24, 2013.