Chronic Migraine, Coping, Triggers

The Everlasting Search to Pinpoint Migraine Triggers

It never fails. I return home from a trip* and a migraine hits within a few hours. As always, there’s the urge to figure out what went wrong, what triggered the migraine. I could blame it on insufficient protein in my breakfast and lunch, restless sleep, not drinking enough water, or the mere fact that I was on an airplane for three hours. Or I could use the commonly cited trigger of stress — the stress of travel, the stress of returning to the demands of normal life, the stress of leaving friends, or the stress release upon being home. (Whether stress is actually a trigger is debatable.)

Practically anything, whether it is positive, negative or neutral, could be a trigger. Eating a particular food? Not eating enough? Eating too much? Inadequate sleep? Excessive sleep? Weather changes? Schedule disruption? Flying? Any of these could be a trigger. This is the trouble with migraine. (Well, actually, there are many troubles with migraine, but this is the one that ignites most of my fruitless worry and unfounded self-flagellation.)

Not only is the field of potential triggers wide open, they are additive. Something might not be a trigger in isolation, but add on a couple more triggers and the attack begins.

What most triggers have in common is that the migraineur can be blamed for causing them to happen. “You have a migraine? Well, if you had taken care of yourself by sleeping/eating/breathing correctly, you wouldn’t have gotten it.” This seems to be the attitude of the general public. And we migraineurs are pretty quick to judge ourselves, too. Of course we don’t want to have migraine attacks and changing our behaviors or diets is one potential way to feel like we have some control over this illness. More importantly, it could reduce the frequency of attacks, which must be a universal goal among migraineurs.

Triggers are absolutely real. But they are also different for everyone. And sometimes you can follow all the rules and still have a migraine attack. That’s the case for me 95% of the time, yet I still have a migraine nearly every day. I feel like I must be doing something wrong, but have no idea what it is.

*I wrote this last week after returning from a wedding in Minneapolis. It devolved into a rant, so I let it sit a while before editing and posting.

3 thoughts on “The Everlasting Search to Pinpoint Migraine Triggers”

  1. Air travel is miserable, I’m willing to blame flying as a trigger. Poor air quality, dehydration, altitude changes, sitting in a still position too long, etc.

    The rest, I just haven’t figured out for myself.

  2. Kerrie, I don’t think you’re doing anything wrong at all. You are vigilent about maintaining the best environment for yourself so that you can minimize triggers. That only makes sense.

    People with seafood allergies avoid restaurants that serve it. People with migraines avoid the things that trigger their pain.

    I still struggle with hearing things like “Oh, but the weather is a trigger you can’t control.” What I hear in that sentence, perhaps with a bit of oversensitivity, is “But you can control everything else, so why are you still hurting?”


    1. Thanks, Sue! I always feel like I’m not doing enough. Like you, I’m with you on hearing “But you can control everything else…” when someone says the weather is a trigger you can’t control. Part of that is my own bias — I expect that I should be able to eliminate all the other triggers. I *know* that’s not true and I’m slowly learning to believe it.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *