Sisterhood Agenda

Triggers for Migraine Headaches in Women

Latest posts by Angela D. Coleman (see all)

Since my daughter and I have both had our bouts with migraine headaches, I needed to know the triggers and causes.  The more I researched the issue, the more information I found about how common migraines are for women.

36 million people who experience migraines in the United States, the affliction is three to four times more common in women than in men.


I seek to understand migraine headaches.  However, it is not easy.  Not a lot has been available about what triggers migraine headaches in women, not in the United States or other countries. Getting the facts and reaching out to your sisters is helpful with any health crisis. A healthy sisterhood is an empowered sisterhood.

I was surprised when people, even doctors, close friends and family members began to doubt the physical effects of migraines.  They would use the word “migraines” in quotes (condescending) with no concept of how truly debilitating migraines can be.

In her New York Times essay, explained this important health misconception:

Migraine Headache Misconception:
Migraines are psychological manifestations of women’s inability to manage stress and emotions.

Actually: Neurologists are very clear that migraines are a real, debilitating medical condition related to temporary abnormal brain activity. The fact that they may be more common for some women during “that time of the month” has nothing to do with emotions.

For centuries, doctors explained migraines as a woman’s problem caused by emotional disturbances like hysteria, depression or stress…  the misconception that migraines are fueled by a woman’s inability to cope persists.

“It was considered psychological, or that I was a nervous overachiever, so I would never tell people that I have them,” said Lorie Novak, an artist in her sixties who has suffered from migraines since she was 8.

There are hundreds of environmental factors that can trigger migraines in people with genetic predispositions for them.  You may not know your genetic predisposition until you have a migraine.  That is why many health experts suggest that you keep a journal to pinpoint the trigger(s).

Potential triggers for migraines include:

  • Hormonal changes.  Changes like during your menstrual cycle can activate neurons in specific parts of brain and send out signals which other parts of the brain interpret as pain.
  • Lights.  Women are not just sensitive to lights during migraines; lights can actually trigger a migraine.
  • Smells.  A smell or combination of smells can create painful migraines.
  • Alcohol/liquor. Not to be confused with a hangover, a resulting migraine comes quickly.
  • Certain foods.  It is like being allergic to some foods.
  • Medications.  A headache is common side affect to over-the-counter and many prescription medications.
  • Other environmental factors.  It could be anything.

If you suffer from migraines, remember that you are in the best position to take charge of your health to figure out what causes your migraines. No doctor or medical specialist knows you and your daily behavior like you know yourself.

Research suggests that there’s a genetic component to at least 50 percent of migraine cases.

Chances are, there is something going on that your body just doesn’t like.  As a migraine sufferer, your goal is to find out what it is and stop doing it.

Don’t feel foolish by avoiding possible triggers.  True story:  my daughter has been able to prevent migraines by not eating ketchup.  When she told one of her classmates about avoiding ketchup and her classmate did the same, her migraines became a thing of the past, too.


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