Some people find that being stressed or eating certain foods can set off headaches or make an existing headache worse.1 Knowing what these triggers are allows you to plan ahead and decrease the likelihood of future headaches.
Here are 10 common headache triggers.
The weather is common trigger for headache sufferers.2 However, not every type of weather causes problems. Changes in temperature and sunlight duration have been linked to headaches, especially during the winter months.3
While it’s impossible to change the weather, it’s perfectly possible to plan ahead for an attack, and have a pain reliever at hand.
Around two-thirds of people with a headache blame stress for their attacks.2 However, headaches often occur after the stressful period.2 That’s because the hormones that are racing around the body to help it handle stress can affect blood pressure and reduce the levels of circulating endorphins, which are the body’s natural pain killing chemicals.4 Stress can also cause muscle tension in the neck or shoulders, or in the muscles of the scalp.4 This can trigger a stress-related tension headache.4
To try to prevent this from happening, discover new ways to keep stress under control – like relaxation techniques, such as breathing exercises or yoga.4
If you’re a woman it won’t be news to you that hormones are a very common headache trigger, in particular, those hormones that are around during menstruation.2 You might find that your migraine headaches are more frequent and severe in the days around your menstrual period.6 This may be because one of the main female hormones, oestrogen, drops around the time of your menstruation, and this may be involved in triggering a migraine headache.7,8
You won’t be able to change your normal menstrual cycle without first speaking to your doctor, but if your headaches are severe, this may be worthwhile as they can prescribe medication that can help.
Diet can play a huge role in overall health and wellbeing – and can also be important when it comes to setting off a headache. Common foods that seem to be triggers include cheese (especially mature cheese), chocolate, cured meats, and the additive monosodium glutamate.8,9 Even ice cream can cause headaches in some people,9 but fortunately they only last a couple of minutes.
Try and cut out or cut down the food that is causing the problem and this should reduce the number of headaches.10
Drinking too much of certain liquids, such as tea, coffee or alcohol, can trigger headaches.1,2,9 Try and limit the amount of alcohol or caffeine consumed during the day, and drink plenty of water. Dehydration is another key factor in many headaches.1
Skipping meals is another trigger.2 That’s because it can lead to low blood sugar, which can cause a headache.11 Eating lots of sugar can also trigger an attack, as this causes a fast rise in blood sugar levels and then a quick crash.11 Instead, have regular healthy meals and avoid high GI foods, which may help you avoid triggers.11
A lack of sleep can also be a headache trigger.2 Try to develop a good sleep routine: go to bed when sleepy and wake up at the same time every day, including on weekends.12
Exercise is great for your overall health, but too much can be a bad thing when it comes to headaches.13 Exercise increases blood circulation in the head and neck and this can make the blood vessels swell - potentially triggering a headache.13
If you experience a headache during or after exercise, it is important to see your doctor.13
Try and exercise in moderation, it may even help stress-induced headaches.4
Slouching or bending over a lot can increase the tension in the upper back, and neck and is a cause of tension headaches.1 Try to avoid being in the same position for long periods and practice sitting up straight and supporting the back.14,16
Some people find grinding their teeth at night can cause a dull headache.3 Fortunately, dentists can create a mouth-guard that may relieve the symptoms from teeth grinding together at night.15
If you’re not sure what triggers a headache, try keeping a diary that documents what the weather was like, what you had to eat or drink or if you did any exercise when you developed a headache. Keep this diary for several headaches to see if you can identify a pattern. Once you know what your headache triggers are, you can start to avoid these and get back on track to living your life headache-free.