How to figure out what triggers a migraine headache

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
Researchers say predicting migraines is impossible for patients.
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Do you suffer from migraine headaches but have had a hard time figuring out when one will strike? If so, you may want to stop trying. Researchers suggest it is nearly impossible to figure out when a headache will strike because most people lack enough information to pinpoint migraine triggers. Instead, try a formal experiment with your doctor.

Timothy T. Houle, Ph.D, associate professor of anesthesia and neurology at Wake Forest Baptist explained in a press release that trying on your own to figure out what causes a migraine is a “flawed approach” because there are simply too many variables to consider.

According to the researcher, “…daily fluctuations of variables – such as weather, diet, hormone levels, sleep, physical activity and stress – appear to be enough to prevent the perfect conditions necessary for determining triggers.”

He says perfect conditions might only occur every 2 years. An example he gives is drinking wine for several days. Houle says if you’re trying to figure out if you will get a headache, just eating cheese with your wine might skew the results entirely.

In an effort to help people with migraine headaches understand how to find out what causes their headaches, Houle and co-author Dana P. Turner, M.S.P.H., also of the Wake Forest Baptist anesthesiology department determined it takes advanced statistical analysis techniques.

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For their analysis, 9 women with migraine were asked to track their daily stress levels and food intake, in addition to submitting a morning urine specimen for 3 months to test hormone levels. The researchers also reviewed local weather for 3-years.

Houle said most people don’t have enough information to figure out the cause of their migraine headaches on their own. He suggests patients work with their doctor to develop a formal plan for testing.

The goal of the research is to help migraine sufferers predict their pain so they will know when to take medication that can put their live's on hold. In some instances medication can make pain worse, Houle says.

The research suggests it takes formal experiments to uncover what triggers migraine headaches and that it is nearly impossible for patients to predict when a headache will strike on their own.

Citation:
Dana P. Turner, Todd A. Smitherman, Vincent T. Martin, Donald B. Penzien, Timothy T. Houle. Causality and Headache Triggers. Headache: The Journal of Head and Face Pain, 2013; 53 (4): 628 DOI: 10.1111/head.12076

Image credit: Morguefile

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