Stress is leading trigger for migraine

By Deborah Condon

Stress is the most common trigger for migraine headaches among Irish people, followed by eating certain foods, a new study by the Migraine Association of Ireland (MAI) has found.

Over 500 people with migraine took part in the study, which was carried out in conjunction with the migraine clinic at Beaumont Hospital, Dublin.

According to the findings, over three-quarters of people claimed that stress was the most common trigger factor. Work stress was the most frequently mentioned type of stress. While people were found to be more prone to a direct attack in the 'let down' period after a stressful period, such as at the weekend or while on holiday.

Almost six in 10 (59%) people meanwhile said that their migraine patterns were directly linked to the food that they ate. The most common dietary triggers were chocolate, cheese and citrus fruits.

A further 49% identified irregular sleeping patterns as a trigger. Meanwhile in women, over 70% identified hormonal factors, predominantly menstrual, as playing a key role.

"Migraine is a neurological condition, so although these factors do not actually cause migraine as such, they can be responsible for brining about individual attacks in people who are susceptible", explained Esther Tomkins, a specialist migraine nurse at Beaumont Hospital.

While it is not fully understood how these triggers work, one theory suggests that they are linked to an overactive nervous system.

"People with migraine are more vulnerable to certain irritating stimuli. When one, two or several of these stimuli occur, the person's nervous system responds by activating a migraine attack", said Dr Edward O'Sullivan, director of the migraine clinic in Cork University Hospital.

Commenting on this issue, Peter Murphy of the MAI pointed out that not everybody has trigger factors. Furthermore where there are triggers, they tend to be very individual and are not limited to the ones identified in this study.

"Identifying trigger factors often takes time and commitment, but doing so can help reduce the number of attacks you experience. We recommend using a migraine diary for about six months to help identify potential triggers. Once identified, people can go about improving their quality of life by eliminating or reducing their exposure to their own particular triggers", Mr Murphy said.

Migraine currently affects around 400,000 people in Ireland. It is characterised by a severe, one-sided headache that can last up to three days. It can be accompanied by symptoms such as nausea, vomiting and sensitivity to light and/or noise.

The study was carried out ahead of Migraine Action Week, which takes place September 12 - 18.

Two information meetings for the public will be held during that week, one in Galway and one in Dublin. To reserve a place at one of these meetings or for any information on migraine, contact the MAI at 1850 200 378 or see


Patricia(BSN32637) - 09/08/2005 16:36

As a migraine sufferer I can add that tiredness is also a trigger for me. I try to avoid getting over tired but this isn't always possible!

NineMoons - 10/08/2005 20:06

Yeah, me too. But sleeping too much isn't good either. For me, it seems to be more about irregularity - if I fall out of a pattern with eating or sleeping, it can lead to a migraine.

liam(lcollins) - 10/08/2005 23:32

i see that two information meetings for the public are to be held in dublin and galway. what about cork and other places. I think more meetings should be held outside Dublin.

liam(lcollins) - 10/08/2005 23:38

i love cheese , espicially, red cheddar cheese, yum , yum, and i know that i will get miagrain, the next day , but the experience of red cheese on fresh (donnelys bread), local cork. produce, and brown sauce(yr sauce,) is worth the suffering that it brings ,so stuff miagraine, it dosent bother me ,but the suffering does . so whatever.!!!!!!!!!!!!! yum yum

liam(lcollins) - 10/08/2005 23:43

on a sunny day , i find that the dark, light, contrast is lethal.sunlight, from cars, windows, glass, is lethal, if i get full sunlight flash the i know that miagraine, will follow,

liam(lcollins) - 10/08/2005 23:53

with reference to stress as the most common trigger, is seems to me that ,being in a low stress level continiously is more benifical than being in a high stress, level and going to a low stress level to fast,its the high unbalance factor that seems to contribute to the attack.

Elizabeth(NSS31699) - 11/08/2005 08:22

I agreed with most of the reasons for migraine, but I also get migraine if I sleep too much ie over 8 hours......what a life!!

Declan(TCO27830) - 11/08/2005 09:23

I suffered from regular 'classic migraine' attacks until I was diagnosed as coeliac last December. Since I have gone on a gluten free diet I have only had one attack and that is down to cross contamination with gluten(the coeliac's biggest issue) of a meal in a restaurant.

Anonymous - 11/08/2005 10:23

I can really identify with the "let down" period described in the article. I found that I was getting lots of headaches on Saturdays after a stressful week or the day after finishing exams, etc. I found that Biofeedback Therapy helps. This involves winding down each evening to let go of the stresses of the day so that they are not building up and up. Try deep breathing and on each breath out expel the stresses that are bothering you. It worked for me.

Anonymous - 11/08/2005 11:21

Has anybody noticed weather patterns? I seem to get my migraines when there is a particularly bad weather front - be it high or low pressure. Sunlight straight in the eyes is also a no no. Wrapround shades for me, but I'm not copying Bono!

Anonymous - 12/08/2005 15:52

I find definitely that glare or flickering of light on a sunny day can trigger a migraine, as well as high humidity weatherwise. Definitely stress, noise, not eating properly,not getting enough water, hot sunny weather or conversely getting a cold head or face in winter - either some of these factors alone or a combination, are my migraine triggers. Of all the drugs I've tried for migraine, I personally find Nurofen Plus the best, I can almost feel it calming the feeling of 'inflammation' in my head. Regards, Fiona.

Brian(turnerb) - 16/08/2005 13:08

For me, tiredness seems to be a key trigger factor. Also, getting flashes of light (such as sunlight reflected from a car window) seems to contribute, although to a lesser extent.

Anonymous - 16/08/2005 17:31

Used to get migrane 3 days before my period each month but but the pill put a stop to that - fantastic. Now I only get themduring periods of high stress. Ordinary pain killers never touch severe migrane - which involve needing total rest for a 24 hour period. Imigran works if taken within 1 hour of the onset. Otherwise its a morphine injection.

Anonymous - 20/08/2005 22:19

Being a migraine sufferer I always avoid eating chocolate, cheese & coffee but Ive come to realise that its more high levels of stress developing in a matter of seconds is mainly what triggers them. Its as if I begin to panic so 'Bach Rescue Remedy' is my best friend in those situations!! I swear by the stuff!

Josef(GRG19950) - 22/08/2005 23:45

Does anyone out there get "optical migraine2 attacks? I`ve Had them for about nine months now since I got a new prescription lens for my glasses. I was asked at the time if I wanted anti glare coated lense, so I thought why not.This type of migraine only happens at night and when I drive in compleatly dark conditions. It manifests itself in the form of headlights on oncoming cars having elongated pointed star shapes. If I look at them coming towards me I get a little light headed, so have to keep my eyes focused on the road before me.Once the symptons start they continue on even if I take my classes of.Has anyone had the same or simular experiance. Or any advice on this subject. These specs cost me 400 and you can`t remove the coating. When I wear my older spec`s I do not get this star effect. By the way, I forgot to mention that you get no headaches with this form of migraine but it does make you feel a little light headed when it`s occcuring

Kay(TNG34129) - 06/09/2005 16:36

I'm about to buy new prescription lenses. One apprentice optician (U.S. -- Lenscrafters) said she uses anti-glare on the inside lens of her glasses to reduce headlight glare from behind. A more experienced employee in another shop said that anti-glare lets light THROUGH the lens more efficiently. I'm working through this question VERY carefully as I have transform migraine (24/7 migraine) and the question for me is not triggers: it's exacerbators. The drug mask is variable in its effectiveness. Do you know if your coating is on the inside, the outside or both? It would help me, I think, and I'll make sure to post my results so you can use whatever experience I get to benefit if you decide to (ouch -- the cost!) buy a new pair. I've never had aura with my migraines -- no visual effects at all except that light is an exacerbator.

Kay(DLG34140) - 06/09/2005 19:23

I am developing a seminar on stress/depression and how to deal with the issues. If you have any suggestions on specific areas I should cover, please send me the info. at I thank you for your input.

Kay(TNG34129) - 07/09/2005 00:05

Josef - Research so far suggests that, especially if the elongated stars are vertical, you may have gotten POLARIZATION instead of anti-glare coating. Polarized lenses work on roads and water because reflections from roads and water are polarized horizontally because of the way light reflects off those surfaces. Direct light and reflection from metal doesn't get polarized at all before it gets to the lens of the glasses, so if you've got polarized glasses, oncoming headlights and reflections off metal should be giving you a lot of vertical looking point sources. Also, as I read more about the coatings, the physics of applying them appears to be VERY precise, so if the coating was applied improperly, that could be the problem, in which case I hope the glasses are under warranty, as it seems likely that if the coating is defective they should either fix it, or at least make you a new pair without. Good luck!

Josef(GRG19950) - 12/09/2005 21:05

Thank you for your comments Kay. I have printed them out and hope this week to get in to my optician and see what he makes of them. I made a fairly long journey last night from Dublin to Cork, where I live, and noticed that my eyes are also watering a lot even though there is no dust or smoke etc in them. What I plan to do if I can get no satisfation from my optician is get my older lenses put in new frames. ( which I broke) and carry those with me in the car and use them at night. will keep you posted as to any further outcome regarding this matter

confused - 13/04/2006 22:32

I started getting migraine with aura but no headaches since Christmas Day! Anyone suffer the same things please, and what was your solutions? Thanks a lot. M.

mac - 05/05/2006 08:47

Confused .... I get migraine attacks with aura and numbness. Numb hands and mouth. Visual impairment is my biggest problem. Slight headache, but nothing very severe. Been taking "Half Inderal LA" for many years now (beta-blocker). Absolutely saved my sanity. Cut my attacks way down in both frequency and severity.

melissa - 05/05/2006 20:13

I get awful migraine with Aura. Ifind that my visul impairment is lethal if a migraine comes on quickly. I found that coffey owndly use to start them but now cheese and ice-cream mixed with stress full situations cause them. What follows the visul comes a blinding head ache which lasts for few hours, like a dagger going through my head. I dont get the bad one that often but is there anyone out there that could suggest something for me to take. I do suffer from allergies and have a sensitive system which needs to be taken into consideration. but i am worried it will cause effect in my working environmnt.

laney - 22/09/2006 11:50

i have suffered migraine attacks for about 4yrs.ifind zomig helps alot.i have been to a neurologist& he mentioned an anti-depressant he is going to put me on as well.i dont know the name of them but he said they help with migraines.has anyone heard of this. im a bit reluctant to try it.

Jim - 05/04/2007 00:07

I think I understand what people refer to as "Classic Migraine" For me back of the neck one side or the other only, and simultaneous over and behind the eye and forehead on the same side. Zomig has been prescribed for me and they have worked however, I am become increasingly worried that I am becoming immune to them. Recently the pain is taking longer to go and sometimes returns, has anybody had any sucess with accupuncture ??

mac - 05/04/2007 12:50

My understanding of "classic migraine" is migraine with aura ....... "common migraine" is migraine without the aura ...... I would be very interested to hear of any results from people using accupuncture as a treatment. I've been attack free for almost 12 months now using "half inderal" ...... fingers crossed !!

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