Here’s How to Predict When You’ll Get a Migraine, According to Science

Updated: Jun. 15, 2021

If you're one of the millions of people debilitated by chronic migraine headaches, you'll want to be able to see them coming. Here's how.

wavebreakmedia/ShutterstockEvery 10 seconds, someone in the U.S. goes to the emergency room complaining of head pain, and approximately 1.2 million visits are for acute migraine attacks, according to the Migraine Research Foundation. These are the reasons you might be getting migraines, besides hormones.

If you get migraines, you know they often bring debilitating symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, and sensitivity to light and sound that may send you to bed for the rest of the day, if not to the ER. While at this point you probably have a list of established migraine triggers, including stripes, certain foods (such as nuts, cheese, and red wine), eating irregular meals, and more, some migraines do hit seemingly suddenly—and a new study suggests that there may be some key warning signs.

In a study published in the journal Headache, Tim Houle, PhD, of Massachusetts General Hospital and his colleagues found that the previous day’s stresses could be what causes tomorrow’s headache. But not just any stress—intense stress. Based on the findings, Dr. Houle believes that the team’s way of measuring stress could potentially predict when a migraine will occur in an individual sufferer.

For their research, Dr. Houle and his team looked at 95 people who were required to keep a log of headache occurrences over a 4,195-day period. At the conclusion of the study, records showed that participants experienced headaches on 1,613 days, which is nearly 38 percent of the trial. While the participants reported pretty low to moderate levels of stress overall, the researchers noted that the reported stress was greater on days preceding a headache. So stress today could predict a headache tomorrow. Here are some ways you can manage your stress level.

“We know that certain people are at greater risk of having an attack over other people, but within a person, we have not been able to predict increased risk for an attack with any level of accuracy,” Dr. Houle told Science Daily. “This study demonstrates that it is quite possible to forecast the occurrence of a headache attack within an individual headache sufferer.”

Based on their findings, the research team hopes to work further on refining their model. They believe that with additional work, it may be possible to prematurely treat a migraine attack before it even begins. “We must refine the art of headache forecasting and then test targeted interventions in carefully selected patients,” the researchers added.

“The model we developed in this study is a very good start to helping people forecast the chances they will experience a headache attack, but work is needed to make the prediction models more accurate before they will be of widespread clinical use,” Dr. Houle said.

Until further research presents new options for prevention, here’s how to manage your migraines.