Top 5 Triggers for Headaches and Migraines

Headaches and Migraines are amongst the most common ailments suffered today. Research and understanding of what headaches and migraines are is constantly being conducted and there are a variety of treatment options depending on the causes.

People often confuse the causes and triggers of headaches. For example, a person may have hormonal imbalances, nerve irritation, or whiplash from a car accident that cause headaches, but the trigger for the headaches could be anything from a stressful event to a change in sleep schedule.

1. Diet

Headaches can quite often be traced back to dietary triggers. It’s generally good practice to listen to the body for feedback after eating each meal. How is your level of energy? Does your meal sit heavy? Do you have indigestion? Food is fuel, it should make you feel energized. If you find that you are getting headaches after certain meals it may be that you’re eating something that is triggering your headaches.

Foods containing high levels of histamines are directly linked to triggering regular headaches in many people. Most commonly known in relation to allergies, histamines are naturally occurring neurotransmitters. Some people are highly sensitive to these neurotransmitters. Most foods contain some histamines so the objective if you have histamine sensitivity is to decrease your intake of foods with particularly high levels. Some foods to watch out for include overripe fruits and vegetables, fermented foods such as cheese, sauerkraut and soy sauce. Meat and dairy products also may have high levels of histamines.

2. Alcohol

For anyone who has suffered a hangover this trigger should not come as a surprise. The surprise may be the truly toxic effect that alcohol can have on the body. Alcohol can have a negative effect on all kinds of bodily functions including exacerbating hormonal balances and blood vessel dilation. Those who are already susceptible to headaches will likely experience worse hangovers from excessive alcohol consumption.

Even for those who consume alcohol in moderation, some people experience headaches just by drinking one glass of wine. Red wine is particularly bad for those who have a sensitivity to alcohol and headaches. In fact, this problem is so common that the acronym RWH – red wine headache exists to describe it. Those who suffer from RWH often lack an enzyme in their intestines that allows them to process wine and so it’s recommended to cut down or avoid it completely.

3. Poor Posture

In this day and age, many people spend the majority of their days sitting in front of a computer at work and often follow that up by relaxing in front of a television at the end of the day, the result is that many suffer the consequences of poor posture.

Poor posture leads to tight muscles which can lead to tension linked to headaches. Activities that require that the body is in a fixed position for prolonged periods of time strain the body which can lead to headaches. Tension headaches result from tightness in the neck, shoulders and back.

4. Sleep

Quality sleep is essential to overall health. Specifically, sleep has a healing function for the brain and thus the lack of restorative sleep can lead to tension headaches. Headaches can not only be triggered by lack of sleep but can actually cause sleep disturbances. Even slight changes in sleeping schedules can trigger headaches. Try to maintain a regular sleep schedule and minimize sleep disturbances.

5. Stress

Everyone experiences stress on some level, everyday. The number one self-reported trigger factor for heachaches is stress. A few common emotional stressors include: pressure in family relations or at work, financial worries and illness. Those who suffer from chronic headaches, often view stressful life events as more negative and have more difficulty coping than healthy people. This creates a vicious cycle.

It’s important to understand what life events are causing you stress in order to actively manage the impact. There are many relaxation techniques that are effective in reducing stress. One of the best treatments is reaching out to friends, family and/or medical professionals who can be a part of a strong social support network that’s been shown to alleviate the symptoms of stress related ailments.

Causes vs. Triggers

It’s important to understand the difference between the causes and triggers of headaches. Treatment for causes may be long term and more complicated than addressing triggers. Chronic headaches should be discussed with medical professionals who can help diagnose the cause and identify triggers. The good news is there are a variety of treatments that can be determined on a case by case basis.

Where can I get help?

One of the best ways to find a doctor is through referrals from friends, family, and other health care providers you trust. You can also utilize online search engines that will show the headache and migraine doctors located near you.

Request an appointment with a doctor in your area to begin your path to a pain free life!


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  2. “Migraines”. Digital Journal of Ophthalmology (2015).
  3. “Headaches and Sleep”. Illinois Neurological Institute (2015).
  4. Bernstein, Carolyn MD; McArdle, Elaine,  (November 2009). Migraine Brain.
  5. Olesen, Jes MD Phd,  (October 2005). The Headaches: 147.
  6. Loder, Elizabeth; Martin, Vincent, (August 2004). Headache – A Guide for the Primary Care Physician: 229.
  7. “Hangover and Headaches”. Johns Hopkins Medicine.

Melissa Groelz

Melissa Groelz

Dr. Melissa Groelz, DC is a chiropractor at Rock Creek Spine & Rehabilitation Center. Located at 413 Summit Boulevard #101, Broomfield, CO 80021. 303-499-6565