Learning what triggers your migraines can help you handle them better.

If you get migraines, you’re likely familiar with the way they seemingly come out of nowhere, bringing an immediate end to your day. It’s easy to feel like the only thing you can do is find somewhere dark and quiet while you wait for it to pass. Despite how random migraines sometimes seem, few things are truly random. So what causes your migraine?

Migraines have several common causes, and while it’s not always easy to pinpoint what’s triggering them, doing so can be a crucial key to learning how to prevent them or navigate around them. To help you get started, we’ve created a guide on 10 common migraine causes and what you can do about them.

1. Stress

There are a few ways high stress levels trigger migraines, which makes it a major trigger for many people. When you’re stressed, you tend to tighten a lot of your muscles without realizing it, creating extended tension in your shoulders, neck, and jaw that can easily lead to a migraine. Stress also changes the levels of feel-good chemicals, like serotonin, in your brain. Instead of your body adjusting smoothly to these fluctuations, this change can trigger a migraine. Similarly, if you’re stressed for a long time, the sudden change in these chemical levels when your stress goes back down can cause a migraine as well.

Thankfully, though, if this is what causes your migraine, there are a lot of ways to manage your stress. You can start by setting priorities and limiting your responsibilities so you’re not overcommitting yourself. Building good habits, like setting aside time to relax every day, getting enough sleep, exercising daily, and practicing mindfulness or journaling, can also significantly reduce your stress levels. Figuring out the right way to manage your stress can be a bit of a journey, but it can cut down on how often you get migraines!

2. Genetics

Genetics play a surprisingly major role in whether you’re susceptible to migraines. Studies have indicated that up to 80% of people who experience migraines have an immediate relative who also gets them. Still, even if there’s a genetic aspect to your migraines, you’ll have migraine triggers. Identifying those and addressing them will be just as helpful as they’d be without the genetic aspect. Additionally, while you can’t change your genetics, being aware of a family history of migraines is incredibly helpful for your doctor to know as they come up with a treatment plan for you.

3. Hormonal Changes

Women are three times more likely than men to experience migraines. This is largely due to the hormonal changes that are a natural part of women’s cycles. The fluctuations in estrogen levels that occur right before menstrual cycles, during pregnancy or ovulation, and during menopause can trigger migraines. Hormonal birth control helps reduce the frequency of some women’s migraines, but it can worsen migraines for others.

As a result, there’s a bit of trial and error that goes into reducing or preventing hormonal migraines. It’s far from impossible, though! If this is what causes your migraine, the best thing you can do for migraines linked to your hormones is to discuss them with your doctor. They deal with these issues all the time with many different people, so they’ll likely have several methods you can try!

4. Jaw Issues

Even by themselves, issues with your jaw like those caused by arthritis and Ehlers-Danlos syndrome aren’t fun. In addition to their usual symptoms, they often cause muscle tension or inflammation that can lead to migraines. In some cases, doing gentle jaw exercises to strengthen the muscles around the joint of your jaw improves discomfort and reduces the frequency of migraines. You can also try icing the area or taking anti-inflammatory pain medications to reduce swelling or inflammation in the joint. If you don’t have a diagnosis for what’s causing your jaw issues, you should seek one! Knowing the root cause will help you come up with a more targeted treatment for your discomfort and the migraines it’s causing. Ask your dentist about temporomandibular joint disorder or TMD.

5. TMD

Temporomandibular joint disorder (TMD) is an umbrella term for issues involving the joints, muscles, ligaments, or nerves in your jaw. It has a range of potential causes, including joint disorders, injuries, a misaligned bite, bruxism, and more. TMD leads to a range of temporomandibular joint (TMJ) symptoms, from painful chewing or lockjaw to migraines. Just like with other jaw issues, TMD can cause migraines because of muscle tension, inflammation, or swelling around your jaw. Since there are so many potential causes of TMJ, the best thing you can do is contact your dentist about your symptoms.

The good news is there are plenty of TMJ treatments out there, and finding the right one for you should relieve your migraines as well as any other symptoms you’re experiencing! Dr. Bentz will identify the root cause of your TMD and suggest treatments, which could include anything from daily jaw exercises to orthodontics or Botox. While it might sound strange at first, we sometimes use Botox as a TMJ treatment because it forces the muscles in your jaw to relax, bringing you relief from your symptoms and helping to prevent migraines.

6. Sensory Stimuli

For many people, sensory stimuli, like bright light, sudden or loud sounds, and strong smells like perfume and secondhand smoke, trigger migraines—sometimes quite suddenly. While you can’t avoid all sensory stimulation, you can do your best to limit it. Wear sunglasses when you go outside, and don’t be afraid to wear them inside if fluorescent lights are too bright for you. Ask people to be mindful of your sound sensitivity whenever possible, and bring ear plugs or sound-canceling headphones if you know you’re going to be in a noisy place. Avoid wearing perfume or cologne, and ask your loved ones to do the same around you. You can also do your best to air out rooms with fans or open windows if you’re going to be working with strong scents, like cleaners or paint.

We live in a world full of stimuli, so we know it’s not easy to limit how many you encounter each day. Despite this, you might be surprised by how much simply making the people around you aware of these things and taking a few small steps to lessen major stimuli can help cut back on your migraines!

7. Changes in the Weather

Weather is quite variable, and its changes often affect us more than we think. Variations in weather patterns, like storms, changes in barometric pressure, humidity, and heat, are common migraine triggers. Since we can’t control the weather, this is admittedly a very difficult trigger to actively prevent. In this case, sometimes the best you can do is work around the weather. Figure out which weather changes trigger your migraines, then watch the forecast carefully and plan your schedule around it. If your trigger is heat, staying inside when you can and trying to get errands done either early or late in the day when it’s cooler can help minimize your migraines.

8. Diet

The foods you eat help fuel your body and give you the nutrients you need to function at your best, so not eating enough or going too long between meals are both common migraine triggers. What you eat can also impact your migraines. Some people notice that certain foods, like nuts or cultured dairy products, trigger migraines for them, while others notice that additives, like aspartame, are responsible for theirs. Consuming too much caffeine—or quitting your usual caffeine intake cold turkey—are also common culprits.

If you’re not sure what causes your migraines, try making a food chart. Write down everything you eat and drink, then make note of when you get migraines. After a while, if there aren’t any obvious answers, check the ingredients of products you ate before getting a migraine to see if they have any additives in common. Once you’ve identified them, you could cut back on problematic foods or eliminate them entirely to significantly reduce your migraines. Of course, always consult your primary doctor before making drastic changes to your diet.

9. Unusual Sleep Pattern

Sleep is essential for your health because it’s when your body renews and repairs itself. The average adult needs between seven and nine hours of sleep each night. If you get too much or too little, you can wind up with a migraine. Similarly, sleep disorders, like sleep apnea, that keep you awake or make it hard to get quality sleep often cause migraines.

Thankfully, your sleep schedule is usually easy to fix! Do your best to get to bed around the same time every night at a time that’ll allow you to get enough sleep. If you don’t feel rested enough with just seven hours of sleep every night, plan for a little more! If you’re still getting migraines and waking up tired despite sticking to your schedule, you may need to consider looking into treatment for a sleep disorder. Diagnosing issues like these is incredibly important for your overall health, and you’ll feel so much better with treatment!

10. Physical Activity

Some people experience exertion migraines, where physical activity, like exercise, triggers them. These kinds of migraines are particularly common when people work out in a hot or humid environment because it’s very easy to become dehydrated. Exertion migraines don’t mean you have to give up on exercising or living the healthy lifestyle you want to! There are several things you can do to combat them. The first is to always make sure you stay hydrated. You can also pay attention to the weather. If it’s going to be hot and humid, you might be better off exercising indoors or doing your outdoor exercises early in the day before it gets hot.

Additionally, you should always be careful to go through a warm-up and cool-down routine when you exercise. This can help acclimate your body to the different levels of activity you’re putting it through. If you notice certain activities are more likely to trigger migraines, you can also limit or eliminate them from your exercise routine. When you do these steps, you can keep the exercise routine you want with fewer migraines.

Bentz Dental Implant and Prosthodontic Center can help manage your headaches.

Once you’ve identified one or more of your migraine triggers, you’ll be able to take steps to prevent them so you can live a happier, more active life. If you’d like to learn more about your TMJ and how it could be causing your migraines, feel free to schedule a consultation with Dr. Bentz at any time.