Headaches are a Big Headache! 5 Common Headache Triggers You Should Know

Headaches are a Big Headache! 5 Common Headache Triggers You Should Know

By: Holly L. Thacker, MD • Posted on July 14, 2013


Headaches and Their Symptoms

Most people experience headaches at some point in their lives. Headaches can be a big pain in the….head and body. Migraine headaches occur in up to half of all people and in women can worsen at the time of menstruation, ovulation and with hormone fluctuations. There are many types of headaches, with the most common headaches being:

  • Tension (muscular)
  • Migraine (neurovascular)

Anyone experiencing the following headache symptoms should seek immediate medical attention:

  • A change in headache pattern
  • Experiencing the ‘worst headache of their life’
  • Persons over age 50 who develop new headaches
  • A headache that is associated with fever or with any neurologic symptom: numbness, weakness, slurred speech, dizziness, lack of coordination, memory loss

5 Most Common Headache Triggers

  1. Weather changes. Barometric changes, heat, humidity, and even lightning with changes in the electromagnetic fields have been associated with flares in migraines. Unfortunately, we can not control the weather and even weather forecasts are just forecasts. However, during storm season be sure to have your migraine headache abortive therapies like tryptans with you and be sure to minimize other known triggers. Most folks with ‘sinus headaches’ actually have migraine headaches triggered by weather changes.
  2. Caffeine. One of the most commonly used drugs in coffee, tea, soft drinks, sports drinks, energy drinks and many over the counter and prescription medicines. Fluctuations in caffeine intake can trigger a migraine headache. People who wake up with an am headache that is relieved by their favorite caffeinated morning drink are usually having caffeine withdrawal headaches.
  3. Stress. Actually, the let down of stress is another common headache trigger. Therefore, relaxation on the weekend after a tense work week or vacation headaches are unfortunately not uncommon and are doubly punishing to the person who cannot enjoy or function during the weekend or during the long awaited vacation. Trying to keep stress, relaxation, exercise and sleep on a regular pattern, regardless of work or play is very important.
  4. Sex and physical activity. Intense physical activity and sexual climax can trigger a migraine headache in young persons. If it is the ‘worst headache’ of one’s life and occurs after either of these activities for the first time, medical attention should be sought, as this can signify a subarachnoid brain hemorrhage. Fortunately, for most folks, this is not the case and generally lessens over time. Staying well hydrated before, during and after exercise as well as having a warm up and cool down activity for both intense physical activity and sexual activity is key.
  5. Sleep. Sleep is so important for brain health and physical functioning. Most folks simply do not get enough sleep. Changing sleep patterns on the weekends or holidays is a notoriously common cause of headaches. Morning headaches associated with snoring, weight gain and a thick neck can be associated with sleep apnea syndrome, a treatable condition that reduces headaches and increases life span.

3 Tips to Help Reduce Headache Pain

For anyone with headaches, follow these three tips that can help manage and treat your headache symptoms:

  1. Identify if you have more than one type of headache, what the triggers are and what makes the headache better.
  2. Keep a journal of headache patterns, food intake and activities as this can be very helpful for you and your doctor.
  3. Keep track of medications (both prescription and non-prescription) as many medications and withdrawal from medications like aspirin and acetaminophen, as well as many medical conditions can be associated with headaches.

The good news is that headaches can be controlled, managed, treated and many times cured! It is important to take care of yourself and make sure to get enough sleep, exercise regularly and eat a healthy diet.

Be Strong. Be Healthy. Be in Charge!

-Holly L. Thacker, MD

Holly L. Thacker, MD, FACP is nationally known for her leadership in women’s health. She is the founder of the Cleveland Clinic Women’s Health Fellowship and is currently the Professor and Director of the Center for Specialized Women’s Health at Cleveland Clinic and Lerner College of Medicine at Case Western Reserve University. Her special interests are menopause and related medical problems including osteoporosis, hormone therapy, breast cancer risk assessment, menstrual disorders, female sexual dysfunction and interdisciplinary women’s health. Dr. Thacker is the Executive Director of Speaking of Women’s Health and the author of The Cleveland Clinic Guide to Menopause.


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