It is nearly impossible for migraine sufferers to pinpoint the causes of
their attacks on their own, researchers say.
Many people with migraines try to figure out for themselves the things that
trigger their migraines. For example, they may conclude that it is stress,
hormones, alcohol or even the weather.
"But our research shows this is a flawed approach for several reasons,"
Timothy Houle, an associate professor of anaesthesia and neurology at Wake
Forest Baptist Medical Centre in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, said.
"Correctly identifying triggers allows patients to avoid or manage them in an
attempt to prevent future headaches," Houle said.
"However, daily fluctuations of variables – such as weather, diet, hormone
levels, sleep, physical activity and stress – appear to be enough to prevent the
perfect conditions necessary for determining triggers."
Not enough information
Houle and a colleague conducted a study that included nine women who suffered
migraines and kept a daily diary and tracked their stress for three months.
Daily morning urine samples were collected from the women and tested for
hormone levels. In addition, the researchers analysed local weather data during
It was extremely difficult for the women to identify the causes of their
migraines, according to the findings, which were published recently in the
online version of the journal Headache.
"People who try to figure out their own triggers probably don't have enough
information to truly know what causes their headaches," study co-author Dana
Turner, also of the Wake Forest Baptist Medical Centre anesthesiology
"They need more formal experiments and should work with their doctors to
devise a formal experiment for testing triggers. Many patients live in fear of the unpredictability of headache pain," Houle
said. "As a result, they often restrict their daily lives to prepare for the
eventuality of the next attack that may leave them bedridden and temporarily
"They may even engage in medication-use strategies that inadvertently worsen
their headaches," he said.
"The goal of this research is to better understand what conditions must be
true for an individual headache sufferer to conclude that something causes their
National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke has more about migraines.