Although the tendency to have frequent headaches is probably inherited, the way you live your everyday life could influence how often those headaches occur. If headaches are a serious problem for you, it makes sense to pay extra attention to triggers that might bring on or aggravate headaches.
Potential headache precipitating factors (triggers) are many and varied. Different types of headaches have different triggers. Triggers are not the same for everyone, and not necessarily the same for different attacks in the same person. Identifying triggers may be complicated by the fact that it often takes a combination of triggers to set off a headache. For example, a stressful day followed by a few glasses of red wine that evening and oversleeping the next morning might trigger a migraine whereas red wine at lunch may have no effect. The major groups of precipitating factors are: dietary, environmental, hormonal (women), medications and physical and emotional factors.
Headaches can be triggered by insufficient food, missing meals, delayed meals, eating too little and dehydration. Fasting is recognized as a trigger and could be due to a lowered blood sugar level. Eating every four hours during the day will help keep blood sugar stable. Those who frequently wake with a headache may find a snack before bed will help.
Dehydration should be guarded against. The average person needs 1-2 litres of water per day to keep blood volume level high. In periods of high temperature or high activity, the body loses extra water through perspiration, and one needs to drink more.
There has been a great deal of interest in nutrition and dietary factors, and it is natural for patients with a chronic problem like headache to wonder about substances in food that might affect headaches. Although there are some exceptions, in general patients who suffer from migraine notice more food related problems than do patients with tension-type headache. People with cluster headache should avoid alcohol during cluster periods but generally do not report food sensitivities. Most adverse reactions to dietary ingredients are probably sensitivities rather than true food allergies. There is insufficient evidence linking headache and dietary agents, apart from alcohol, but there is no harm in determining triggers and restricting diet accordingly, providing a balanced diet is maintained.
Alcohol especially red wine, has been long thought of as a cause of headache, as is too much of any alcohol.
Caffeine can be both a treatment and a cause. In small amounts caffeine can improve the analgesic affects of paracetamol and aspirin and is a common ingredient in medications. Some find strong coffee or a cola drink early on during a headache will abort or modify the attack. However, caffeine consumed frequently or in large amounts can cause a withdrawal headache.
Environmental triggers reported include:
As three times as many women suffer from migraine headaches than men, and this difference is most apparent during the reproductive years, female sex hormones are implicated as a significant trigger for women. Hormonal triggers may be:
Certain medications may cause headache as a side-effect such as
Physical and emotional factors that can precipitate headache include:
Webinar: Behavioural Treatment of Headache & Migraine – from Migraine & Headache Awareness Week 2016. This webinar discusses how to change your behaviour to help avoid triggers.