Approximately 12 percent of Americans experience migraines, according to the National Headache Foundation. But these aren't your typical headaches: Attacks typically include a throbbing or pulsing pain accompanied by light and sound sensitivity, and sometimes nausea and vomiting, lasting anywhere from four to 72 hours.
For sufferers, attacks can sometimes feel frustratingly random. But one strategy that can help is identifying possible triggers: things, situations or activities that seem to up your likelihood of getting a migraine. While triggers aren't always clear-cut (recent research suggests it's difficult to pinpoint exactly what they are without going through formal testing), many doctors suggest keeping a headache diary in an attempt to identify -- and ultimately avoid -- the circumstances that seem to up your chances.
Triggers vary from person to person, and even from day to day. Sometimes they can be cumulative (meaning one isn't enough to cause a headache, but several are) and also dependent upon your threshold, or your susceptibility, to getting a headache. You might normally be able to tolerate a glass of wine or a missed meal just fine, for instance, but add a bad night's sleep, a stressful week at work or a clump of rainy days to the mix, and you'll be seeking solace under the bed covers. "Within the same person it can be different from one day to the next, one week to the next," says Dawn Buse, Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of Neurology at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine at Yeshiva University and director of behavioral medicine at the Montefiore Headache Center in New York. It's also important to note that some things that might seem like triggers, such as muscle stiffness or certain food cravings, are actually part of the prodrome phase of a migraine, a warning stage that can set in hours or days before an attack.
Determining and controlling your personal triggers can be an empowering exercise that gives you more control over your migraines, Buse says, especially when combined with a generally healthy lifestyle, including a balanced diet, regular exercise and stress management. (Print a diary to start tracking here, or download one of the many smartphone apps out there). In honor of Migraine and Headache Awareness Month, we asked Buse and Dr. Stephen Silberstein, M.D., director of the Headache Center at Jefferson University Hospitals in Philadelphia, to help identify a few of the more surprising migraine triggers. Check out the list below, then tell us: What triggers your migraines?