Is a Single Trigger Enough to Start a Migraine?

Health Professional

Full Question:

Can you clear something up for me? I have read before (from another source) that triggers are cumulative/stackable and that only one trigger can never cause a migraine. A recent HealthCentral article doesn't seem to state this as irrevocable, or that is how I understood it.

I do know some fellow migraineurs who can be triggered by the whiff of fragrance. Personally, I have food triggers which I always avoid, and I try to remain hydrated—which is very important due to being on Topamax. Sleep is sometimes difficult during a bad migraine cycle. Of course I have stress to deal with from time to time, who doesn't, and certain smells and lighting become triggers. My biggest trigger is weather changes, barometric pressure rising or falling, to be exact. This not only effects my migraines, but also my fibromyalgia which is due to over-active/sensitive nerves similar to migraines in a way. So my question is, can the trigger of weather changes alone cause my migraine, when I'm avoiding my other triggers? Or am I missing something? Thank you! Roni.

Full Answer:

Dear Roni,

The short, simple answer to your question is - Yes, it is entirely possible for a single trigger to bring on a migraine attack.

That said, migraine triggers can be very complex. Not only do they vary from one person to the next, but how our bodies respond to our migraine triggers can be wildly unpredictable. Why this occurs isn't fully understood. There are quite a number of things to consider about triggers:

  • Some of us have some triggers that can bring on a migraine by themselves.
  • Most of us have a group of triggers that one by itself isn't enough to bring on a migraine.
  • These less powerful triggers are often called cumulative or stackable because two of more of them put together will bring on a migraine.
  • When our bodies are stressed from our being ill or injured or from being in a stressful situation, we're more susceptible to our triggers. At such times, one of the less powerful triggers may be enough to tip the scales and bring on a migraine. It's a bit like catching a cold—when our bodies are stressed, we're more susceptible to the cold virus.

Each of us has a personal trigger threshold - what it takes to bring on a migraine. We can be pushed over that threshold by a single trigger, two or more stackable triggers, or a single trigger at a time when our bodies are stressed. The best way to determine what single or stackable triggers we have is by keeping a good migraine diary.

Here's more information about migraine triggers that should be helpful:

Thank you for your question,
Dave Watson and Teri Robert


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