While the exact cause of migraine attacks is unknown — particularly the physiological processes behind their intensity and duration — almost everyone who suffers from this debilitating condition can identify the individual triggers that can start an episode.
One of the key steps in managing or treating migraine episodes is knowing what a trigger is and how that trigger can be managed to reduce the chances of an attack. Trigger information can be invaluable to physicians as they treat migraineurs.
The problem is that identifying triggers can be confusing in several ways. They can change over time, and represent themselves in a variety of forms that are unfamiliar to those sufferers who are used to looking for them in one particular form.
How to Identify a Migraine Trigger
A trigger is defined as anything that causes an intense and usually negative emotional reaction in someone. In this situation, a migraine trigger is anything — it could be one or more actions — that is identified as causing a migraine attack.
The difficulty in identifying a trigger is that:
- The event may or may not cause an attack every time
- The event may work singularly or in tandem with another event
- The event may alternate in intensity or duration
Triggers may also depend on the state of mind or body of the sufferer. This leads to the potential that mood and state of mind could have an impact on whether or not a trigger actually leads to a migraine session.
Some common triggers for migraine episodes include:
- Exposure to sound or light
- Certain foods or drinks
- Too much or too little physical activity
- Certain weather conditions
- The addition of stress
- The loss of a loved one
Keeping track of potential triggers is a crucial part of treating migraine sessions. One way that physicians suggest keeping track of potential triggers is by keeping a migraine trigger diary.
How to Keep a Migraine Trigger Diary
A migraine trigger diary is a written record of day-to-day activities and the potential patterns that lead to migraine episodes. Triggers can influence the presence of a migraine up to 48 hours before the event, so keeping an accurate daily journal of triggers is important.
Some of the events that should be recorded in a complete migraine trigger journal may include:
- Sleeping and napping schedules
- Eating schedules and habits
- Working schedules
- Bathroom habits
- Weather-related events
- Menstrual cycles, for women
- Any medications, including schedules and doses
- Any life-changing events, minor or major
- The amount of “screen time” spent on digital devices
The migraine trigger diary should be shared with the treating physician in order to get their take on what might possibly be a contributing event.
How to Avoid Migraine Triggers
Avoiding migraine triggers is a combination of paying attention to daily activities and being willing to change small portions of a lifestyle when triggers are identified.
It’s important to create goals that are realistic and achievable.
This may mean not attempting to avoid all triggers, but rather reducing certain triggers gradually until they are more manageable.
Even just being able to identify the most critical triggers can be considered progress, depending on how accurate the predictions end up being.
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