11 Surprising Headache Triggers

Could it be something you ate? Not enough sleep? What could be causing your headache? Health.com's comprehensive list might help you out.

Your weight

In a recent study, researchers found that women with mild obesity (a body mass index of 30) had a 35% greater risk of headaches than those with a lower BMI. Severe obesity (BMI of 40) upped the chances to 80%.

Your personality

Certain traits, including rigidity, reserve and obsessivity may make you headache-prone. If that sounds like you, it could be time to sign up for relaxation training.

That three-day vacay

Weekend or "let-down" headaches can happen when you take a break from your routine, says Alexander Mauskop, M.D., founder and director of the New York Headache Center and co-author of What Your Doctor May Not Tell You About Migraines. Ease into the change by keeping your sleep time as normal as possible—you'll end up feeling more rested than if you stay in bed until noon.

Your bathroom paint job

It's not just arguing over paint colors that can give you a headache; fumes from traditional paints can trigger pain. Many companies now make nearly odorless, low-VOC (volatile organic compound) formulas, like Benjamin Moore's Natura line or Devoe's Wonder Pure.

Dehydration

You don't have to drink gallons of water to stay hydrated, says John La Puma, M.D., author of Chef MD's Big Book of Culinary Medicine. "I'd love it if people got more water from eating fruits and vegetables because then they'd get all the other good things that come with them," he says.

Skipping meals

We know you're busy, but hunger is a common headache trigger.

Too much caffeine

A little can help headaches but too much can trigger them, New York City neurologist Audrey Halpern, M.D., says. If caffeine is causing your pain, gradually cut back until you have caffeine no more than two days a week.

Inactivity

A recent Swedish study showed that those who were inactive were more likely to get headaches than those who worked out. Aim for 20 to 30 minutes of cardio a day, five days a week, to relieve stress, send blood to the brain, and get feel-good endorphins flowing. Exercise may be a trigger for some people, so consult your doc first.

Sleep deprivation

One large study says those who slept an average of six hours a night tended to have significantly more severe and more frequent headaches than those who got more z's.

Don't feed your headache

Everyone reacts differently, but some foods are known to trigger headaches for many people—and others (especially those rich in magnesium) seem to help prevent them.
Eat: Spinach, tofu, oat bran, barley, fish oil, olive oil, white beans, sunflower and pumpkin seeds
Avoid: Red wine, beer, MSG, chocolate, aged cheese, sauerkraut, processed meats like pepperoni, ham and salami