Common Migraine Triggers and How to Catch Them Early

woman with headache

May 12, 2022

Clinical Contributors to this story:
Sandra Escandon, M.D.

Migraines are a common neurological condition throughout the United States, affecting about 39 million people. Migraines are headaches that result in a pulsing or throbbing sensation, usually occurring on one side of the head. They may last for hours and or even days.  

Many people who suffer from intense, chronic migraines are never diagnosed, but relief is possible. 

Migraine Triggers 

The underlying cause of migraines is still under investigation, although there is probably a genetic component since they often run in families. 

Several triggers can bring on a migraine, including:

  • Stress
  • Dehydration or hunger
  • Certain foods
  • Medications
  • Bright lights
  • Loud noise
  • Menstruation
  • Menopause
  • Disruption in sleep patterns

“If you regularly experience migraines, you may notice that they are preceded by a pattern–– that the onset is usually similar. A migraine diary is a great way to track your triggers and learn to make the necessary changes to avoid migraines,” says neurologist and headache medicine specialist, Sandra Escandon, M.D. “Medication is an excellent way to treat migraine headaches, but that is only a portion of what can be done. Lifestyle changes that promote general good health are also excellent preventative measures.”

Lifestyle modifications can include:

  • Getting good sleep 
  • Maintaining proper diet and eating habits
  • Exercising
  • Quitting smoking
  • Staying hydrated 

Early Signs to Note 

Often, early warning signs precede the onset of a migraine. Those include:

  • Fatigue and frequent yawning
  • Volatile mood changes, quickly alternating between happy or sad
  • Food cravings
  • Increased urination and thirst
  • Neck stiffness
  • Migraine auras (transient neurological symptoms including visual disturbances such as zig-zag lines, flashing lights, spots or vision loss, dizziness, speech problems, weakness or sensory disturbances such as tingling or numbness)

When to See a Doctor 

Fortunately, in most cases, migraine headaches are treatable. Your primary care doctor can help you find the best treatment plan for you if you are having difficulty finding relief from your symptoms.

See a doctor right away if:

  • Your headache is abrupt and intolerably severe
  • Your headache is accompanied by fever, seizure, double vision or difficulty communicating
  • Your headache is the result of an injury or head trauma

Next Steps & Resources:


The material provided through HealthU is intended to be used as general information only and should not replace the advice of your physician. Always consult your physician for individual care.

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