Friday, November 6, 2009

Triggers Vs. Symptoms

Getting Fenced In

While I do not currently have migraines, I had migraines for almost 30 years. At first I did not realize what was happening to me. I blamed everything for my spates of "illness" except migraines. During a yearly physical when I was in my early 20's a doctor diagnosed me with "common" migraines, a revelation that made me realize "Idiot, all those restaurants you went to couldn't possibly have given you food poisoning every time!"

Back then there wasn't a lot of material available to read about the causes of migraines, or triggers of migraines. There weren't a lot of medications available either. If caffergot didn't fix it, I was told there wasn't much else I could do except wait the migraine out. Since I never had an aura letting me know ahead of time that I had a migraine, the caffergot was not effective since by the time I realized I had a migraine my digestive system was no longer working and the pills were too little too late.

Over the years I realized that certain things would bring on a migraine. Since I often did not know I was having a migraine until the pain got intrusive it was very hard to differentiate a trigger or causitive factor from a symptom brought on by the migrainous process.

One of the ways I learned to test a trigger verses a symptom was to retest a suspected trigger at a later date. If the pain was recreated I added that trigger to the list of "things to avoid". Another trick was how quickly the pain became unbearable after the triggering event. If it was bad within two hours, that trigger was added to the list of "things to avoid".

If I noticed something that always worsened as the pain worsened (photophobia [sensitivity to light], hyperacusis or phonophobia [sensitivity to sound],osmophobia or dysosmia [sensitivity to odors]) I considered it a symptom, not a cause. Some sorta were both - like sensitivity to odors: certain petrochemicals and certain perfumes would start a cascade of pain within 20 minutes of smelling them, which put them in the trigger category. Others, like a sensitivity to Prell shampoo only occured during a migraine which put them in the symptom category.

Triggers that definitely caused a full blown migraines within two hours of exporsure for me were: raw onions, garlic, red wine, very good basalmic vinegar, mold, moldy or aged cheese, chocolate/cocoa, diesel engine fumes, WD40 lubricant, high levels of MSG and penicillin. Symptoms that were present only when a migraine was active were sensitivity to light, sensitivity to sound, sensitivity to all odors, and the inability to digest food.

Migraine sufferers have so much information available to them now. There are such great assessment tools and trigger information on the web its hard to imagine the days when you had to go to a good reference library and look up everyting in 20 year old medical books. The active blogging community adds some great resources for research also, and add a personal perspective that is missing from the research libary method of information gathering.

My current headache condition, hemicrania continua, does not have a triggering event. One thing does increase the frequency of severe pain and the severity of the pain and that is exercise/activity. The more I am active the worse things get. Weird, eh? Hoping you all have great weekends, and pain free days ahead. Wishing my triggers had been as cooperative as Roy Roger's horse!


  1. Great information and research you have done on your migraines! Thanks for taking the time to share. Blessings.

  2. You are welcome. Hoping your migraine triggers are easily avoided!

  3. Four years into this odyssey and I'm still working on identifying and avoiding triggers. It always feels like a work in progress. On the other hand, when I knowingly avoid a trigger and don't get a migraine - I feel pretty darn proud of myself! Knowledge can be very empowering.

  4. Howdy! Thanks for stopping by. I was tested for H. C. but failed the Indomethacin trial. I can't tolerate the medication either orally or in suppository form. It makes me sick as a dog, or a dawg, depending on where you live. My official diagnoses are - persistent idiopathic facial pain or atypical facial pain as well as allodynia on the right side of my face; occipital neuralgia; chronic migraine, tinnitus, photosensitivity and phonosensitivity; and I have a host of co-morbidities that come along with these wonderful visitors. It's nice to see I'm not alone. Thanks again.

  5. Howdy back Trisha - its Dawg in my part of the world (southern Missouri Ozarks). Sorry that the indo didn't do the work.

    It's like a miracle drug for those that can use it. Mades me sicker than a dawg too after taking it a few months....but it was great while it lasted.

    Sounds like a very bad combination to have for headaches. :( Hoping for a good solution for your headpain! You are definitely not alone out here!!

  6. Sue: The worst is when you do something that you have FORGOTTEN is a trigger.

    Some triggers are so strong they stick with you even after migraines are GONE: I still can't bring myself to eat chocolate. It's Pavlovian by this time - chocolate = pain. That's the opposotie - chocolate should = happiness!!

  7. Winny - regarding your last comment; so true! I have an MSG intolerance, and while it doesn't cause migraines it does give me digestive issues/flu symptoms. Foods that have MSG that I loved before finding out the MSG was making me sick are now completely unappealing to me. It's weird how the body and mind are connected, but I'm thankful because I'm not tempted to eat anything with MSG!

    P.S. - So sorry about your cat! :(

  8. Heather: MSG is such a sneaky ingrediant. Its in a lot of "manufactured" food as a flavorant. Glad I don't have to avoid that one!

    Chocolate at least has color and odor!

    I'm still sad about miss Wilsy, because she was my kitten for a long time. Reality hit again today going down the pet food aisle and not having to get her "special" tidbits. Thank you for thinking of us!

  9. P.S. All: Can you tell The Headache is a bit active this weekend?? My typing spelling and writing abilities are kinda iffy....sigh...