An analysis of migraine triggers in a clinic-based population

Headache. 2010 Sep;50(8):1366-70. doi: 10.1111/j.1526-4610.2010.01753.x.


Background: Many migraineurs report attack "triggers," but relatively few published data exist regarding the relative prevalences of individual triggers, variations related to gender, duration of migraine or migraine subtype, or the existence of any regional variations in the prevalences and distributions of triggers.

Objective: We sought to determine the prevalence and types of migraine triggers in our clinic population, to determine what influence gender, migraine subtype, or duration of migraine might have on the prevalences and types of triggers reported and to compare our findings with data derived from surveys we previously had conducted involving 2 clinic-based populations and 1 general population sample from other regions of the USA.

Methods: We evaluated 200 consecutive new migraine patients referred to our clinic. All patients specifically were queried as to whether they had noted any of 7 specific factors to serve consistently as migraine attack triggers and additionally were surveyed as to whether they might have "other" triggers not listed on the intake questionnaire. Among the other data collected and analyzed were age, gender, age at time of migraine onset, and migraine subtype (ie, episodic vs chronic). Actively cycling females who reported menses as a trigger were questioned as to whether their menstrual migraine (MM) attacks differed from their non-menstrual migraines and, if so, how they differed.

Results: One hundred and eighty-two patients (91%) reported at least 1 migraine trigger, and 165 (82.5%) reported multiple triggers. The most common trigger reported (59%) was "emotional stress," followed by "too much or little sleep" (53.5%), "odors" (46.5%), and "missing meals" (39%). Females or subjects of either gender with chronic migraine were no more likely than males or subjects with episodic migraine to report triggers or multiple triggers. Similarly, longer exposure to migraine did not correlate with a higher likelihood of reporting a trigger or multiple triggers. Fifty-three (62%) of 85 actively cycling females reported menses as a trigger, and of the 51 with menstrually related migraine, 34 (67%) reported their MM to be more severe, more refractory to symptomatic therapy or of longer duration than their non-menstrual attacks; 13 (24.5%) of the 53 women with apparent MM reported their MM to be at least occasionally manifested as status migrainosus. The prevalence and type of triggers reported by this predominantly white female population were similar to those reported by clinic-based populations in San Diego, California and Mobile, Alabama, and in a population-based sample of Hispanics in San Diego County.

Conclusions: A large majority of migraineurs report migraine attack triggers, and the triggers most commonly reported include emotional stress, a disrupted sleep pattern, and various odors. These findings do not appear to vary according to geographic region or race/ethnicity. Among the triggers, MM appears inclined to provoke headache that is more severe, less amenable to treatment, or longer in duration than headaches that occur at other times during the cycle.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Ambulatory Care Facilities
  • Comorbidity / trends
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Migraine Disorders / classification
  • Migraine Disorders / diagnosis
  • Migraine Disorders / epidemiology*
  • Prevalence
  • Surveys and Questionnaires / standards
  • Young Adult