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Migraines: Identifying & Avoiding Triggers

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Fallon Schloemer, DO


Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin health network

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There are people who think of migraines as nothing more than severe headaches, convincing themselves that the additional symptoms they’re experiencing are, well, just in their head. But while headaches are a temporary ailment, migraines are a chronic condition; one that comes with its own set of specific diagnostic criteria and one that affects around 2% of the global population.

Risk Factors

Migraines are the third most common condition in the world, and affect people across all demographics. However, migraines are proven to be highly genetic, and tend to run in families. And bad news for the ladies out there: women are three times more likely to experience migraine headaches. It has been suggested that this could be due to normal shifts in certain hormone levels in the female body.

The frequency at which people experience migraines varies greatly from person to person. Some may have them no more than a few times a year, while others are prone to daily onsets. This disparity is undoubtedly impacted by external triggers or environmental factors, which are different for everyone.


Certain individuals are simply more prone to migraines than others. But while some triggers can be highly subjective to the individual, a variety of environmental, dietary and behavioral factors are commonly known to trigger migraines in general.

Stress – High stress environments, both at work and at home, can be a potent trigger for migraines. Those who suffer from anxiety, mood disorders and panic attacks are also more likely to be triggered by stress.

Poor Sleep – It may come as no surprise to hear that migraines are on the long list of health attributes that are greatly affected by sleep. Patients who habitually struggle to get a good night’s rest, or who have recently gotten poor sleep are much more likely to suffer from a migraine as a result.

Food and Alcohol – Food and dietary triggers are incredibly subjective, but certain foods — or even missing a meal —may increase the likelihood of a migraine occurring. Alcohol is also linked to the onset of migraines, but usually in larger doses. Fret not – your glass of red wine at dinner should still be safe.

The Weather – Staying hydrated can greatly reduce the risk of migraines for everyone, but for those who live in warmer, drier areas, dehydration can be a much more formidable trigger. More than a third of all migraine sufferers also claim that general shifts in the weather have noticeably affected their migraine patterns. Studies have shown that sudden changes in barometric pressure have also been recognized as a trigger.

Symptoms, and Treatment Options

The most common side effects for migraine sufferers are light and sound sensitivity. During a migraine, an individual may also experience fits of nausea or dizziness. Migraines can drastically impair cognitive ability, making it difficult for someone to focus or think clearly during an episode. In more rare cases, migraines have also left victims feeling physically weak. More often than not, this weakness or numbness will be more noticeable on one side of the body.

Treatment plans for migraine patients are highly individualized. At Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin health network, our doctors and neurological specialists take a comprehensive approach to treatment. First, we focus on identifying a patient’s unique triggers and migraine patterns, and then we work together to find the manual and medicinal therapies that will give them the best results.

With the right treatment plans and proactive prevention measures, we take the control away from migraines and give it back to our patients, so that they can get back to living their lives.

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