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Migraine triggers and finding relief

If you suffer from migraines, you know just how debilitating they can be. Many people who get migraines notice that certain factors induce one and they are able to control migraine frequency by mitigating those triggers.

Here are some common triggers to look out for and some guidance on how to find relief


Migraine triggers are different for everyone. The way they work is complicated and involves the blood vessels, neurons, and chemicals, in and around your brain. What sets off a migraine for you may not be the same thing that sets it off for someone else. That being said, here are frequently reported triggers.


Stressful situations can often set off a migraine for a number of reasons. During stressful events, chemicals are released in the brain. These chemicals can start a cascade within the brain that results in dilated blood vessels that throb, and increased sensitivity in the pain receptors in the areas affected. Feeling anxiety or worry can also increase muscle tension, making a migraine more severe. 

Hormonal changes

Some women notice that migraines are more prevalent during certain times in their cycle. The abrupt dip in estrogen before your period can lead to a migraine. Other hormonal changes such as starting birth control pills, entering menopause, and beginning hormone replacement therapy can also cause more frequent migraines. 

Sleep changes

The link between sleep and migraines isn’t completely clear. But in one study, over 50% of participants reported lack of sleep or sleeping in late increased their chances of getting a migraine. Poor quality sleep has also been associated with increased migraines. And at the same time, many people report that sleep helps relieve their migraines once they’ve started.

Sensory stimuli

Harsh, flashing lights, as well as loud noises, can prompt migraines. Some people even find that certain smells such as strong perfume or smoke are triggers.


Additives in food such as preservatives, aspartame, and nitrates are also common triggers. You may find that eating foods you are allergic or sensitive to may also cause migraines. 


People who suffer from migraines can be very sensitive to weather changes. For some, weather changes lead to changes in serotonin and other chemical levels in the brain, which can induce a migraine. Weather-related triggers include:

  • Bright sunlight
  • Rain or stormy weather
  • Extreme cold or heat
  • High humidity
  • Dry air
  • Barometric pressure changes

While these triggers are the most common ones, people report all sorts of things that lead to migraines such as physical exertion, decreased caffeine intake, and certain medications. It can be helpful to keep a migraine journal and jot down when you get a migraine. You can get to the bottom of your triggers by detailing the date and time the headache occurred and information about what you did or experienced in the hours leading up to the attack.

Tips for managing migraines

The best way to deal with migraines is to prevent them from happening altogether. Once you know what sets off your migraines, try to avoid those things to the best of your ability. Here are some lifestyle changes that can mitigate migraine attacks:


Try to get a consistent eight hours of sleep every single night.

Stay hydrated

Make sure you are drinking the recommended eight glasses of water a day.

Eat regular meals

Eat when you’re hungry and be careful to not skip meals to help control the frequency of migraines.

Try acupuncture

According to research conducted by Cochrane, patients who tried traditional acupuncture to relieve chronic migraines found the frequency of their headaches was cut in half compared to those who did not receive traditional acupuncture. 

Minimize stress

This may be easier said than done, but minimizing stress in your life will definitely help ward off migraines. Don’t know where to start? Try Ovia’s Daily self-care checklist in the “More” menu. 

Finding relief

Sometimes, you are unable to avoid a migraine trigger, or you don’t notice the warning signs of an impending migraine until it hits you. Here are some ways to find relief when a migraine strikes.

  • Have some caffeine: Small amounts of caffeine can help reduce pain and can help over-the-counter pain medications such as acetaminophen work better.
  • Reduce noise and light: Migraines often lead to increased sensitivity to light and sound. Even regular lighting and noises can amplify the pain of a migraine, so the best thing to do in that situation is to get into a dark, quiet room.  
  • Place a cool cloth or ice pack on your head: Many people find the cooling sensation of a dampened cloth or ice pack relieves some of the throbbing pain. 
  • Drink water: Since dehydration can lead to migraines or make them worse, taking slow sips of water can help ease some of the tension from a migraine. 
  • Medication: There are two categories of migraine medications: preventive and abortive. People who suffer from four or more migraines a month may get a recommendation from their healthcare provider to take preventative medication. Those who have migraines less frequently may be prescribed abortive migraine medication that they take when they feel a migraine coming on. 
  • Sleep: We can’t stress the importance of sleep enough! Sometimes, the best way to deal with a migraine is simply to sleep it off. 

Reviewed by the Ovia Health Clinical Team


  • Michael J. Arnold, MD and Jeanette M. McIntyre, MD. “Acupuncture for Migraine Prevention.” Am Fam Physician. July 1, 1996. https://www.aafp.org/afp/2017/0701/p23.html.
  • Jerry W. Swanson, M.D. “Migraines: Are they triggered by weather changes?” Mayo Clinic. Mayo Clinic. May 10, 2019. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/migraine-headache/expert-answers/migraine-headache/faq-20058505.
  • “Migraine Headaches.” Cleveland Clinic. Cleveland Clinic. March 3, 2021. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/5005-migraine-headaches.
  • Mayo Clinic Staff. “Migraine.” Mayo Clinic. Mayo Clinic. July 2, 2021. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/migraine-headache/symptoms-causes/syc-20360201.
  • F Michael Cutrer, MD. “Pathophysiology, clinical manifestations, and diagnosis of migraine in adults.”UpToDate. UpToDate. November 5, 2020. https://www.uptodate.com/contents/pathophysiology-clinical-manifestations-and-diagnosis-of-migraine-in-adults.
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