December 13, 2017

View as List 6 Common Headache Triggers

  • Woman experiencing stress

    Have you ever had a pounding headache after eating some stinky cheese or indulging in a glass or two of red wine? While some headaches seem to happen out of the blue, others are brought on by specific “triggers”—foods, environmental conditions, or other factors that can send a sufferer looking for a dark room and a bottle of ibuprofen. Whether you experience frequent migraines or other types of headaches, identifying what seems to set them off can help spare you future pain and discomfort. Here are some common headache catalysts.

     
  • 1

    Hunger

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    Your body is constantly working to maintain a steady level of blood glucose (blood sugar). If you go too long without eating, or exercise on an empty stomach, your blood sugar level can dip—a known trigger for headaches. Bottom line? Eat regular, nourishing, meals and snacks throughout the day, especially if you’re prone to headaches.

  • 2

    Caffeine

    Hot Black coffee in a white cup on the table.

    When it comes to headaches, caffeine is part angel and part devil. Several over-the-counter and prescription headache remedies contain caffeine, which has been shown to enhance their analgesic effect. (The reasons for this remain unknown.) At the same time, regular caffeine consumption in some people can actually encourage the development of headaches. More commonly, if you’re a regular caffeine drinker, suddenly stopping can trigger withdrawal symptoms, including headache. Don’t forget that in addition to coffee, caffeine is found in many other foods including tea, hot cocoa, chocolate, and soft drinks.

  • 3

    Hormones

    Close up of african young woman touching her head

    If you’re a woman and it seems like you get headaches right around your period, you’re not imagining it. The drop in estrogen levels in the days before menstruation may leave you vulnerable to an attack. A 2015 evidence review in Headache found that half of all women are at heightened risk of “menstrual migraines,” which tend to be longer lasting, more debilitating, and harder to treat than standard migraines. Other research has found that headache frequency increases in the months or years leading up to menopause. If this is an ongoing problem, talk to your doctor about non-pharmacological and pharmacological strategies that can help.

  • 4

    Alcohol

    Row of Cosmopolitan cocktails

    That throbbing you get in your head after drinking a few too many? It’s likely a result of alcohol-induced dehydration. One of the factors thought to contribute to a hangover is that alcohol acts as a diuretic: It stimulates the kidneys to pass more water than is being consumed, resulting in loss of electrolytes and dehydration. Alcohol also reduces blood sugar levels, which can produce fatigue and contribute to headaches. In addition, alcohol can widen or dilate blood vessels, leading to a headache as well as disrupted sleep and other effects.

  • 5

    Anxiety

    Handsome man sitting on sofa with big headache

    Headaches are sometimes a symptom of anxiety disorders, including generalized anxiety disorder, and some evidence suggests that people who experience migraines tend to also be predisposed to anxiety, depression, or both. Your physician might prescribe an antianxiety medication or certain types of antidepressants; they can help relieve anxiety as well as headache pain. Cognitive-behavioral therapy to reduce stress and anxiety may also reduce headache frequency, and it might reduce or even eliminate the need for medication. Get tips for finding a good therapist.

  • 6

    Hotter weather

    Businessman in office with computer and fan cooling off

    When researchers looked at more than 7,000 patients who sought care at Boston’s Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center emergency room during a 7-year period, they found a close association between warmer air temperatures in the 24 hours prior to the patient's hospital visit and a diagnosis of headache. For each 9 degrees Fahrenheit temperature increase there was a 7.5 percent higher risk of severe headache.