Headaches And Women: What Do Hormones Have To Do With It
A bad headache can ruin your workday, strain your relationship with family members and affect your ability to exercise. In the U.S., headaches cause 112 million sick days each year. While one-third of the population gets headaches, women suffer more than men do.
Changes in hormones could be among the reasons women have more headaches than men do.
These hormone-related headache triggers include:
Does This Feel Like Your Typical Headache Or
They may present a little differently than a typical headache or migraine. Menstrual headaches can range from mild to severe when it comes to pain, says Dr. Talebian, and they tend to start on one side of your head before spreading .
Classic migraine symptoms could strike, too for instance, you might feel super-sensitive to light and sick to your stomach.
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How The Menstrual Cycle Can Cause Migraine
Women who experience menstrual migraine may be sensitive to hormonal fluctuations experienced just prior to the onset of menstruation. Just before menstruation there is a natural drop in progesterone levels.
The two important females hormones involved are progesterone and estrogen.
Progesterone is a natural steroid hormone involved in the female menstrual cycle that stimulates the uterus to prepare for pregnancy. It is a naturally occurring hormone in the female body that helps a healthy female function normally.
Estrogens or oestrogens , are a group of compounds that are important in the menstrual and reproductive cycles. They are also naturally occurring steroid hormones in women that promote the development and maintenance of female features of the body.
It is important to note that estrogens are used as part of some oral contraceptives and in estrogen replacement therapy for some postmenopausal women.
Throughout the natural menstrual cycle the levels of these hormones fluctuate. During the cycle, the levels of progesterone and estrogens also change in relation to each other. See the image below for how these levels change throughout the cycle.
These fluctuations are normal and part of being a healthy and fertile woman.
Several research studies confirm that migraine is significantly more likely to occur in association with falling estrogen in the late luteal/early follicular phase of the menstrual cycle.
Is estrogen withdrawal the sole trigger for menstrual migraine?
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What Tests Are Used To Find Out If I Have Migraine
If you think you get migraine headaches, talk with your doctor. Before your appointment, write down:
Your doctor may also do an exam and ask more questions about your health history. This could include past head injury and sinus or dental problems. Your doctor may be able to diagnose migraine just from the information you provide.
You may get a blood test or other tests, such as CT scan or MRI, if your doctor thinks that something else is causing your headaches. Work with your doctor to decide on the best tests for you.
How Is Menstrual Migraine Diagnosed
There are no tests available for menstrual migraine. The most accurate way to tell if you have menstrual migraine is to keep a diary for at least three months recording both your migraine attacks and the days you menstruate.
For menstrual migraine to be diagnosed migraine should occur predominately between two days before and up to three days into menstruation, in at least two out of three consecutive menstrual cycles.
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Fats For Progesterone Support
Progesterone is a key hormone that both men and women need which has a large regulation role. It keeps estrogen and testosterone in balance. Some of the best foods to support progesterone are fatty fish such as salmon, sardines and mackerel, cruciferous vegetables and sulfur containing foods like the onion family and mushrooms, shellfish, oysters and other mollusks, high vitamin C foods like camu camu, sweet potato, strawberries, kiwi, papaya, pumpkin and orange, and super foods like liver.
What Is The Relationship Between Migraine Aura And Birth Control Is Birth Control Risky For Women Who Experience Aura
About 20% of people with migraines experience aura, which is typically a warning that the headache itself is about to come on Ã¢ although sometimes an aura occurs without the headache pain itself.
An aura can include unusual sensory changes such as seeing flashes of light, lines, zigzags or other visual changes, which is called a visual aura, unusual smells or sensations, and sometimes even numbness or weakness in their face, an inability to speak or understand words, and other unusual sensory symptoms.
Women who experience Ã¢migraine with aura,Ã¢ or any changes in vision before or with their headache, should not use any form of birth control containing estrogen, as the estrogen may increase the risk of stroke for these women.
But there are many safe birth control options for women who experience aura, including progestin-only pills , birth control shots, an intrauterine device , a contraceptive implant, or barrier methods like condoms, spermicides, a diaphragm, or a cervical cap.
But many women who suffer migraines without auras can safely use all birth control methods, including combination hormonal methods like birth control pills, the patch, and the ring.
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Hormonal Headache Vs Menstrual Migraine
While a hormonal headache and a menstrual migraine are both caused by fluctuating hormones, the difference between the two involves the severity of the head pain.
A hormonal headache may be mild to moderate and cause a nagging ache or throb. Its a nuisance and uncomfortable, but it might not interfere with your day-to-day routine.
A menstrual migraine, on the other hand, can be debilitating. According to the National Headache Foundation, menstrual migraine affects about 60 percent of women.
If you regularly experience migraine attacks, you may be susceptible to menstrual migraine.
A menstrual migraine differs from a regular migraine in that it isnt usually associated with an aura. Aura refers to flashing lights, zigzag lines, or other sensory experiences that some people experience before a migraine attack.
A menstrual migraine is characterized by severe throbbing that can start on one side of the forehead and travel to the other. The severity can make it difficult to keep your eyes open, work, or even think.
Treatment for a hormonal headache and a menstrual migraine depend on the severity.
Sensitivity To Light Sounds And Smells
Sufferers may experience strong, painful reactions to light, loud noises, and certain odors.
While it is not necessary to have all symptoms, they can be moderate to severe. Migraine attacks can last between four hours to three days if left untreated. The need for bed-rest during these attacks may interfere with work, family and social obligations.
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Whats The Relationship Between Hormones And Headaches
Headaches in women, especially migraines, are related to changes in the levels of estrogen. Levels of estrogen drop immediately before the start of your menstrual flow .
Premenstrual migraines regularly occur during or after the time when the female hormones, estrogen and progesterone, drop to their lowest levels.
Migraine attacks usually improve during pregnancy. However, some women have reported that their migraines started during the first trimester of pregnancy, and then went away.
Talk To Your Doctor About Birth Control
For someone women, birth control can help with menstrual headaches. For other women, it can actually cause the headaches. A lot can depend on you, your individual migraine triggers, and the type of hormonal birth control you take, says ob/gyn and womens health expert Sherry Ross, M.D., at Santa Monica Women’s Health.
Some women suffer migraines just before their period due to a drop in estrogen levels, she explains. Women in that situation who are on a combination pill can actually be helped by birth control because it keeps estrogen levels steady throughout their cycle. Combination pills contain synthetic versions of the female hormones estrogen and progesterone.
For other women, the combination pills can make migraines worse and more frequent. Combination pills are generally not recommended for migraine sufferers because a) they can make migraines worse and b) they can put you at an increased risk of having a stroke, says Jessica Shepherd, M.D., an assistant professor of clinical obstetrics and gynecology and director of minimally invasive gynecology at The University of Illinois College of Medicine at Chicago. Instead, doctors usually recommend a progestin pill or an IUD, she says.
If you suffer from migraines and suspect your period and/or birth control might be a factor, experts say its important to talk to your doctor. Together you can find a birth control method that works for youand keeps you headache-free.
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Are Migraine Headaches More Common In Women Than Men
Yes. About three out of four people who have migraines are women. Migraines are most common in women between the ages of 20 and 45. At this time of life women often have more job, family, and social duties. Women tend to report more painful and longer lasting headaches and more symptoms, such as nausea and vomiting. All these factors make it hard for a woman to fulfill her roles at work and at home when migraine strikes.
Should I Have A Hysterectomy
Hysterectomy has no place solely in the management of migraine. Studies show that migraine is more likely to deteriorate after surgery. However, if other medical problems require a hysterectomy, which can induce the menopause, the effects on migraine are probably lessened by subsequent oestrogen replacement therapy.
Gonadotrophin-releasing hormones create a medical menopause and have been used to assess the likely outcome of a hysterectomy, although symptoms of oestrogen deficiency such as hot flushes, limit their use. The hormones are also associated with bone thinning and should not usually be used for longer than six months without regular monitoring and scans to test bone density. Add-back continuous combined oestrogen and progestogen can be given to counter these difficulties. Given these limitations, in addition to their high cost, this type of treatment is generally only used in specialist departments.
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Recommended Lifestyle Adjustments For Migraines And Headaches
Not all lifestyle changes are studied, but these recommendations are fairly standard for how to help you cope with your headaches. Give them a try, see what works best for you.
Get enough sleep: Since fatigue and sleep disturbances are linked to being migraine/headache triggers , be sure to adjust your bedtime accordingly so that you wake up relaxed and well rested. If you commonly have headaches in the morning after waking up, it may be a good idea to get checked for sleep apnea .
Reduce your stress levels: Stress, whether itâs particular events, feelings, or time periods, are linked to triggering migraines and headache . For this reason, stress management techniques like relaxation therapy, cognitive behavioural therapy, and biofeedback could help . Itâs easier said than done, but prioritize de-stressing as best you can.
Avoid extreme weather: Weather changes, both hot and cold, can trigger migraines and headaches . Check the weather forecast and plan ahead. Be extra cautious about extreme heat and sun exposure, as exhaustion and dehydration can also cause headaches .
Find a dark and quiet space: For people experiencing a migraine headache, light and sound can aggravate migraine symptoms . Some people find relief by lying in dark, quiet rooms.
Take The Same Medications Youd Take For Normal Migraines
Your doctor can also prescribe triptans, which are drugs that reduce inflammation by restricting blood vessels. They work as well or better than over-the-counter meds, but because of their effect on blood vessels they cant be used by people with coronary heart disease, a risk of stroke or uncontrolled high blood pressure.
You can prevent migraines completely, and you can stop head pain from developing into a full-blown migraine, Halker says. All it takes is a little bit of record keeping and some coordination with a doctor to see which protocols work best for you.
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Keep Your Glutamate Levels Low
Glutamate has been implicated as one of the main migraine triggers since the 1970s. Our brain has glutamate scavengers that help clear of any excesses of glutamate. One study published in Biology of Reproduction found that estrogen and progesterone are neuroprotective and serve as glutamate scavengers. When these hormones drop dramatically close to the last and first days of the menstrual cycle, glutamate can build up in neurons, causing damage. Avoid any large sources of glutamate or synthetic forms found in eggs, milk, wheat, and soy products.
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Avoid Migraine Triggers In General In The Days Leading Up To Your Period
Dont skip meals or fast, and avoid processed foods, artificial sweeteners, alcohol and highly caffeinated drinks, notes the Mayo Clinic. Keep your sleep patterns as normal as possible, and try to either avoid stress or learn how to cope with it.
You can also be proactive about preventing migraines in general by asking about certain vitamin supplements, like magnesium.
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What Causes Menstrual Migraine
There is a link between migraine and falling levels of the hormone oestrogen. The natural drop in oestrogen levels before your period starts is linked to menstrual migraine. Women who have heavy and painful periods have higher levels of prostaglandin , which has also been identified as playing a role in a menstrual migraine.
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Menstrual Migraine Vs Menstrually Related Migraine
There are several types of migraine, and a subset of migraine is menstrual migraine, which, simply stated, is when a person has migraine attacks only around menstruation, says Dr. Hindiyeh.
There is also menstrually related migraine, which means that although you certainly get migraine around your monthly cycle, youll also get migraine attacks at other times of the month, Hindiyeh says.
Most women who have migraine attacks around the time of menstruation have menstrually related migraine, according to Hindiyeh. Their menstrual cycle will certainly be a trigger, but they also have other triggers or other times when theyll get migraine , says Hindiyeh.
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What Are Some Remedies I Can Use For Menstrual Migraine
So, how can you keep migraine attacks from making the monthly ordeal of your period even worse? Well, the first step is understanding your treatment options.
Hot or cold compresses
Hereâs an inexpensive remedy thatâs effective at reducing migraine and menstrual pain: hot and cold compresses. For migraine pain, youâll want to apply them to the base of your neck or your temples. Disposable ice packs, while not the most environmentally-friendly, can be kept by your bed instead of in the freezer so you can skip the trip to the kitchen while youâre in pain.
No matter how you use your compresses, be sure to use them in moderation: The National Headache Foundation suggests capping cold pack use at 15 minutes at a time, and heating pads can cause skin burns or even fires if you donât keep an eye on them.
As you may already know, various forms of ginger have been used to treat nausea for centuries, making it an appropriate choice for menstrual migraine. And while it doesnât actually have to be tea to work, drinking something hot can be a soothing experience on its own.
As far as clinical research goes, the evidence for gingerâs effectiveness has been inconclusive. So while you may not see a massive impact from this home remedy, it probably wonât hurt to give it a try.
As a bonus, this treatment is totally free, and simple enough that you can probably manage it yourself .
Is Your Birth Control Causing Headaches
Headaches are sometimes a side effect of hormonal birth control . In one study, taking oral contraceptives affected migraines, with 24% of people experiencing increased frequency of migraines .
Estrogen-withdrawal headaches are a type of headache that people get during their Ã¢pill-freeÃ¢ or Ã¢sugar-pill weekÃ¢ when they are taking oral contraceptives. This type of headache usually goes away within 3 days, but then will return during the estrogen-free week of the next cycle .
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International Classification Of Headache Disorders Iii
A1.1.1 Pure menstrual migraine without aura
A. Attacks, in a menstruating woman, fulfilling criteria for 1.1 Migraine without aura and criterion B below B. Occurring exclusively on day 1 ± 2 of menstruation in at least two out of three menstrual cycles and at no other times of the cycle
A1.1.2 Menstrually related migraine without aura
A. Attacks, in a menstruating woman, fulfilling criteria for 1.1 Migraine without aura and criterion B below B. Occurring on day 1 ± 2 of menstruation in at least two out of three menstrual cycles, and additionally at other times of the cycle
A18.104.22.168 Pure menstrual migraine with aura
A. Attacks, in a menstruating woman, fulfilling criteria for 1.2 Migraine with aura and criterion B below B. Occurring exclusively on day 1 ± 2 of menstruation in at least two out of three menstrual cycles and at no other times of the cycle
A22.214.171.124 Menstrually related migraine with aura
A. Attacks, in a menstruating woman, fulfilling criteria for 1.2 Migraine with aura and criterion B below B. Occurring on day 1 ± 2 of menstruation in at least two out of three menstrual cycles, and additionally at other times of the cycle