10 things you didn’t know may trigger migraines

Do you experience frequent migraines? Here are 10 surprising migraine triggers you need to know about, according to science.

Migraine is a debilitating neurological condition that causes severe, throbbing pain, often on one side of a person’s head.

An attack can last for hours or even days and sufferers can experience nausea, vomiting, sensitivity to light and noise, and affected vision.

Migraines are estimated to impact 4.9 million Australians, with triggers varying from person to person.

Neurologist Dr Catherine Stark says unlike a headache, which nearly everyone will experience in their lifetime, migraine is a “whole brain” medical condition and you can’t just grit your teeth and push through it.

“There are some patients who are unable to work or unable to function in their family because of their symptoms,” Dr Stark explains.

Here are 10 surprising reasons you might be suffering from migraines.


Drinking alcohol could increase your risk of experiencing a migraine, according to a recent study published in the European Journal of Neurology.

The research found alcohol was a trigger for more than a third of migraine sufferers, with red wine cited as the most common culprit.

“Alcohol-triggered migraine occurs rapidly after intake of alcoholic beverages, suggesting a different mechanism than a normal hangover,” study senior author Dr Gisela Terwindt, of the Leiden University Medical Centre in the Netherlands, says.


It might be your morning lifeblood, but it turns out your coffee habit could be hurting your head.

Studies show excessive caffeine consumption can result in frequent headaches and migraines.

Researchers say this is because high caffeine consumption can activate the sympathetic nervous system or cause parasympathetic withdrawal, which might trigger migraine.

Chewing gum

While chewing gum might be good for fighting dragon breath, doing so excessively could be to blame for your migraines.

A 2013 study found excessive daily gum-chewing may be associated with chronic migraine-like headaches.

Study co-author Dr Nathan Watemberg says gum-chewing puts pressure on the temporomandibular joint (TMJ), which connects the jaw to the skull.

“Overuse of the TMJ will cause headaches,” Dr Watemberg explains.


In a blow for those practising intermittent fasting, researchers have found a link between delaying or skipping meals and migraines.

During fasting, blood glucose levels may drop too low, triggering a migraine attack, but the good news is symptoms should resolve once you have a bite to eat.


If you’re prone to migraines around menstruation, hormones could be to blame.

According to a 2023 study from the American Academy of Neurology, a woman’s estrogen levels fluctuate during her cycle and migraines can be a symptom of these fluctuations.

Thankfully, researchers say the susceptibility to migraines usually decreases after menopause.

Money problems

Financial pressures giving you a headache? You might not be imagining it.

European College of Neuropsychopharmacology researchers have found that some people are actually genetically more likely to experience migraines due to money problems.

“We were able to show that stress — represented by financial hardship — led to an increase in migraine in those who have a particular gene variant,” researcher Daniel Baksa says.

Daniel says the findings highlight how, for many people, “the stress caused by financial worries can physically affect you”.

Sleep deprivation

Not getting enough shut-eye? A new University of Arizona Health Sciences study has found a link between poor sleep and migraine attacks.

If you’re a migraine sufferer, the research found your chances of having a migraine attack were much higher when sleep deprived.

Study lead Professor Frank Porreca says for people with migraine, limiting the use of electronic devices before bedtime and following other sleep health tips could be an easy way to limit the likelihood of migraine attacks.

“Improved sleep is critically important and probably would diminish the frequency of migraine attacks,” Prof Porreca notes.


How much someone smokes can increase their likelihood of experiencing intense migraines.

A 2009 study found people who smoke are more likely to suffer from migraines, with migraines more likely to set in after five daily cigarettes.

Dr Julio Pascual, one of the study’s authors, says smoking is a precipitating factor of this type of headache.

“There is a direct relationship between the number of cigarettes consumed and the frequency of migraine attacks,” Dr Pascual says.


People have long believed stress might be the culprit behind their migraines and now there is proof.

US researchers at the Montefiore Headache Center and Albert Einstein College of Medicine found “a striking association between reduction in perceived stress and the occurrence of migraine headaches”.

The study shows migraines are more likely to be triggered by the stress “let down” – or the period of relaxation after an episode of heightened stress.

Clinical psychologist and study co-author Dr Dawn Buse says the research results highlight the importance of stress management and healthy lifestyle habits for people who live with migraine.

“It is important for people to be aware of rising stress levels and attempt to relax during periods of stress rather than allowing a major build-up to occur,” Dr Buse says.


“Always take the weather with you” takes on a whole new meaning for migraine sufferers.

It turns out some people who experience regular migraines may be more sensitive to changes in weather patterns.

According to Mayo Clinic, “weather changes may cause imbalances in brain chemicals, including serotonin, which can prompt a migraine”.

While you can’t change the weather, you can prepare for changing weather patterns and, where possible, avoid triggers — for example, by staying indoors during wild and woolly conditions.

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Written by Nyibol Gatluak and Tianna Nadalin.