Migraine sufferers, known as migraineurs, tend to have some form environmental trigger. Finding out your personal triggers is critical to managing this painful condition. If you can avoid what causes a migraine, then you’re one step closer to a pain-controlled life.

Migraine Triggers: Life’s Headache

Are you experiencing some migraine symptoms? Migraine symptoms include severe and throbbing head pain, sound and light sensitivity, nausea, vomiting, and dizziness. They tend to last anywhere from 2-72 hours. About one-third of people who experience migraines also experience an aura, a sensory, language or motor disturbance that occurs before a migraine, like a warning. It is often a strange light, confusing smell, or strange and distorted thoughts. It usually disappears after about thirty minutes and is followed by a piercing headache and a sensitivity to light. Because the throbbing pain is so severe, it can cause people to miss work and be incapacitated for several days. The World Health Organization (WHO) rates migraines as a leading cause of disability worldwide.

What Causes Migraines?

An estimated 28 million Americans, or 12 percent of the U.S. population, suffer from migraines. Migraines are three times more common in women than men. They affect people of all ages. Migraines are both a hereditary and environment-related condition. Most people or 80 percent of sufferers have a family history of migraines. The majority of migraineurs also report some form of trigger. These may be internal (triggered by something inside the body) or external (triggered by something in your environment).

A coital headache is a rare type of a migraine headache triggered by sex. Starting at age 40+, some chemicals released during sexual intercourse cause the swelling of blood vessels that can trigger a migraine. Some people find that lowered serotonin levels also trigger migraines. Serotonin is a type of neurotransmitter which passes messages between nerve cells. It helps control mood, pain sensation, sexual behavior, and sleep. Low serotonin levels in the brain may lead to a process of constriction and dilation of the blood vessels which trigger a migraine.

Is there a migraine gene?

Migraines have a tendency to run in families. Four out of five migraine sufferers have a family history of migraines. The strong hereditary component has led researchers to look into which genes are associated with migraines. In the past two years, a number of groundbreaking findings have led researchers ever closer to finding a cure. Scientists have identified the genes linked to migraines in some patients. Defect in the genes PRDM16, TRPM8 and LRP1 lead to an increased risk of migraines, and each raises the risk for migraines by 10 to 15 percent. Other researchers have found that a gene called TRESK appears to be fundamental in causing migraines. This gene is believed to control the sensitivity of pain nerves in the brain. Scientists are currently researching new types of drugs that would turn this gene on and off, and thus control the pain of migraines.

Are migraines hereditary?

Studies have shown that 80% of those who are diagnosed with migraines have a family history of migraines. If one parent suffers from migraine symptoms, you have a 40% chance of being diagnosed with migraines.  If both parents experience migraines then you have a 90% of being diagnosed with the condition. Migraines have a strong genetic component. Identical twins suffer from migraines together twice as often as fraternal twins. And yet, even among identical twins, there are different rates of migraines. Migraines are also triggered by external factors.

What Triggers a Migraine?

Not every migraine can be traced to some form of environmental trigger. But almost all migraineurs report some form of a trigger, even if these causes do not always trigger a migraine and some migraines seem to arise without a direct cause.

Among migraineurs, the most common of triggers are stress, smoking, alcohol, and a limited amount of sleep.  For women, hormonal changes, such as estrogen fluctuations during menstruation, pregnancy or menopause are a common migraine trigger. Other triggers include extreme heat or cold, pollution and noise, caffeine, chocolate, and lack of food.

Allergies can also trigger migraines and can cause the additional symptoms of pain in the sinus area and upper teeth. For people with allergy migraines, allergic rhinitis, sinusitis, congested mucus in the nasal passages and asthma are all possible triggers. For people with food allergies, dairy products, starchy foods, fried foods, processed foods, high sugar snacks, are the most common triggers.  If you have allergy migraines, you should talk to a naturopathic or regular doctor to find out your sensitivities and any food sensitivities.

Whatever the type of migraine, managing your symptoms and their severity is usually a matter of reducing your exposure to these triggers. Make sure to take note of what you were doing immediately before a migraine started. Keep a migraine diary and look for patterns.

A Word of Advice that’ll Save You the Headache

Migraines are a common condition and the leading cause of disability worldwide. They can cause extreme pain that lasts for days. Migraines are both a hereditary and environmental condition. Almost all migraineurs report some form of environmental trigger. While scientists are working on new drugs that will turn off the pain of migraines, the best way to manage this condition is to monitor and avoid your triggers as much as possible. Make sure to take note of what you are doing. A number of studies suggest that mindfulness meditation can reduce the severity and frequency of migraines. However, this is a little-investigated field of scientific study and more research is needed for this potential migraine treatment to become mainstream. An active and healthy lifestyle can also reduce the stresses on the body, and will likely help you reduce the severity and pain of migraines.

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