Major Headache? Seven Common Migraine Triggers

"All things in moderation" is a wise motto for all of us, but especially for those who suffer from painful migraines.

These skull-crushing headaches can be debilitating and last for days, confining a person to a soft bed in a darkened room.

"It's a pretty disabling headache," said Dr. Lawrence Newman, director of the Headache Institute at St. Luke's-Roosevelt Hospital in New York. "It has an effect on your kids, co-workers, family and friends. They all suffer."

Many doctors believe migraines are the products of a genetic disorder that makes one person's brain more sensitive to certain stressors that other people would barely notice — like missing a meal or a rainy day. More than 26 million Americans suffer from the neurologic disorder, according to the American Medical Association

But recognizing migraine triggers can help ward off a painful migraine headache, and doctors recommend keeping a detailed diary of what foods, events or activities trigger a migraine. These triggers are different for everyone, Newman said, but there are also some classic ones to look out for, including diet, weather or sleeping patterns. All of these triggers can disrupt normal serotonin levels in the brain, which serve the purpose of stopping a migraine before it starts.

Migraines can be treated, and some of the newer drugs, like triptan, which stabilize serotonin levels in the brain, have been shown to decrease the pain and sensitivity associated with migraines.

Overall, any change to the body's status quo is the largest factor in triggering migraines. The best way to combat these changes is to stick to a routine that includes plenty of sleep, moderate exercise, a healthy diet and time to relax.

"Migraine people don't like change, they like sameness," said Dr. Joel Saper, founder and director of the Michigan Headache and Neurological Institute. "Any change of the norm, any stress to your system, and your body will produce a headache."

On the following pages, you will find some of the more common aspects of your life that contribute to migraines — and how you might be able to lessen the frequency of these crushing headaches.

Your Sex Life

The biological events that precede orgasm can bring on migrainelike headaches, Saper said. Increase blood flow through dilated vessels, tensed neck and body muscles, heavy breathing and changes in serotonin levels in the brain can all trigger a migraine.

Such headaches may even occur after running, lifting weights or other kinds of physical exertion and exercise.

"If people got active, jumping around and all that other stuff," the result could be a migraine, Saper said.

This problem is actually more severe for men than for women, according to Dr. Steven Silberstein, director of the Jefferson Headache Center in Philadelphia, and past president of the American Headache Society. An orgasm may ease a painful headache for some women, while it may bring on a migraine in a man.

Your Period

"One of the best-known triggers [for migraines] is menstruation," Silberstein said.

This is because hormone levels in women's bodies fluctuate dramatically during this time. Changes in the levels of two hormones in particular — estrogen and progesterone — can bring on migraines.

These hormones also change during pregnancy, and postpartum women can be especially prone to having migraines due to rapidly falling levels of estrogen.

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