Like HowStuffWorks on Facebook!

Identifying What Triggers Your Headache Is Key to Treatment

Migraine Triggers

Alcohol and Headaches

Alcoholic beverages, particularly beer and wine (especially red wine) are migraine triggers. The offending beverages contain tyramine and phenylethylamine, which trigger migraines in sensitive people. Alcohol is also strongly associated with cluster headaches.

Other Migraine Triggers

Triggers for migraine sufferers vary and include:

  • Diet Several chemicals found in food trigger migraine in certain people. These include tyramine (found in aged cheese, smoked or pickled foods, nuts and chocolate); monosodium glutamate (a flavor enhancer often used in Chinese cooking); sodium nitrite (found in processed meats such as hot dogs, ham and bacon); and caffeine (found in coffee, tea, hot chocolate, and many carbonated beverages).
  • Weather-related Changes Changes in weather systems, barometric pressure and altitude have all been implicated as migraine triggers. In one study, researchers at the New England Center for Headache found that 51 percent of migraine sufferers were sensitive to weather patterns. The largest portion (22 percent) developed headaches during cold, dry weather. Another 12 percent developed headaches during warm, humid weather. Approximately 10 percent were sensitive to changing weather patterns, such as a passing weather front. A portion of participants were sensitive to more than one weather condition. By tracking weather changes in a headache diary and listening to weather reports, migraine sufferers can anticipate triggers and take preventive steps.
  • Hormonal Changes Most female migraine sufferers develop their headaches after puberty. Many researchers believe that fluctuations in estrogen and progesterone may trigger migraines. About half of female migraine sufferers associate their headaches with their menstrual cycle.