There are a number of reasons why women experience more headaches at menopause and hormonal swings are certainly one of them. However there are other issues that can give you a headache, and they are surprisingly everyday.
There is no question that stress impacts hormones. From flushes to weight gain, if your stress levels rise – and stay there – then your body responds by dealing with what it sees as an emergency. Great, except it diverts function away from anything it considers non-essential, and to your body a hot flush is just an inconvenience.
Stress can make you more vulnerable to tension headaches or migraines, and there are certain nerves in the brain that relay pain messages and when you are stressed they may be extra sensitive.
2. Temperature fluctuations
It’s not about hot flushes, but a change in the weather can trigger a headache or migraine. Rain, sun, even extreme cold and changes in the air pressure can all be behind that aching head. Bright light can be a real problem so keep a pair of sunglasses handy if you have to go out into sunlight, particularly at mid day.
3. Strong Odours
These are often noticed by women most in pregnancy, but at any stage in life a very strong odour such as those from paint, perfume, flowers etc can trigger migraines in many people. You need to identify the offender and avoid it where possible, certainly excluding it from your own home where you can.
4. Hair & More
This is one of the fastest to fix, for if your headache comes from a too-tight ponytail then just letting your hair down and giving your scalp a massage can bring relief. The problem is that such tightness can strain the connective tissue in the scalp, and other offenders are tight plaits, headbands, weaves and even a too-tight hat.
I am usually extolling the benefits rather than the problems, but strenuous activity can sometimes lead to headaches and most common in people who are likely to get migraines.
It can occur after any strenuous exercise such as the gym, jogging or even after sex and although rare, this type of headache can also be a sign of a very serious problem such as bleeding in the brain so get immediate help if you get a bad headache after doing something that’s physically hard.
6. Poor Posture
As we age we tend naturally to slouch a little and not stand as straight as we used to. Our modern habit of gazing at laptops, notepads and phones encourages us to slump over and this builds up pressure in the head and neck muscles. If you have frequent tension headaches, these simple lifestyle changes like having the correct chair to work at the computer, and having the monitor at the right height so it is at eye level all could help.
This is not all cheese, but it is certainly a migraine trigger for some. The problem is a substance in cheese called tyramine and it is found in greater quantities the longer a cheese has been left to age. The main problem ones are blue cheese, cheddar, parmesan, and ‘holey’ cheeses such as Emmental.
8. Red Wine
The culprit here again it tyramine which is also found in red wine and other alcoholic drinks. Cheese and wine evening are probably not the best bet if you are prone to headaches. The additives often found in wine can contribute to headaches as well and because alcohol boosts blood flow to the brain, the effects may be even more intense.
9. Processed Meats
You may love a nice ham sandwich but processed meats often again contain tyramine and food additives such as nitrites, which may trigger headaches in some people. Give them a miss for a week or so and see if it makes a difference.
10. Skipped Meals
When you are busy it can happen that you skip a meal, but if you don’t eat, your head could start to ache before you realize you’re hungry. Easy to avoid by being aware of your time between meals, and this is often related to a dip in blood sugar, but if this is the cause then don’t head for something sweet and that will make your blood sugar first to spike and then drop even lower.
Not as common now as more women have given up, but smoking is known to trigger headaches. Unfortunately you can still get a headache from ’secondhand smoke’. Even being near someone smoking means you inhale nicotine, and that causes blood vessels in the brain to narrow, and that leads to a headache.
This is a particularly important trigger if you get cluster headaches which are extremely painful, one-sided headaches that respond to cigarette smoke.
Not just coffee, but all caffeine drinks and the rise of the ‘max’ drinks with high caffeine load can certainly be behind your headaches. It’s the amount that is the problem because in moderation, caffeine often helps, but too great an amount will trigger headaches.
A word of warning if you are a caffeine addict: don’t try to stop suddenly, but gradually reduce your amount as quitting suddenly can make things worse as withdrawal from it is another headache trigger.
14 Oestrogen dominance and hormone imbalance
At menopause headaches are often hormone related and to oestrogen and the way it narrows the arteries and restricts blood flow so tackling oestrogen dominance by rebalancing with progesterone would be a good place to start.
If you suffer from frequent migraines then they can also be associated with low thyroid function and even low blood sugar can be a causative factor in some cases.
How to help yourself
Your particular trigger could be one, or more, from the above list so it is important to isolate just what you are mostly reacting to when you get a headache.
What’s causing it?
The simplest, and most effective strategy is to be able to prevent a headache and a good way to do this is by keeping a headache diary. It may seem like a chore, but each day make a note of what you eat, any stressful events, weather changes, and physical activity.
If you do get a headache, jot down the time it starts and stops so you can identify your personal triggers.
You can be stressed on a daily basis as it can seem such a natural part of modern life, but long-term stress needs tackling. It may seem as if many things in your life are out of control, but if you just manage to change how you respond to the things that stress you then you could see a reduction in the number of your migraines or tension headaches by reducing your stress levels.
There are many ways to deal with it from classes, books or therapies such as yoga, massage or counselling so look for anything that makes you relax and try to incorporate it into your daily life.
I know earlier I issued a warning about intense exercise, but done moderately it is a powerful stress reliever. It can be anything you like that you can manage regularly and find pleasurable so dance, walk or find a regular class that doesn’t stress or put strain on you.
Keep blood sugar level
If you want to avoid hunger headaches then you need to establish a routine of eating healthy meals throughout the day. Stick to smaller portions, so you don’t eat too much and that will keep your blood sugar on an even keel.
Try to pair a protein with a complex carbohydrate such as rice or wholemeal bread and make sure you are having enough fluid as dehydration can also give you a headache.