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Hormones and Migraines

Hormone fluctuations may be among the trigger factors for migraines in women.


It’s one of those sex biases that we never even think about, but prior to puberty it is boys who get more migraines. Once those hormones hit however the ratio changes until by the time they are adults women are getting migraines three times more frequently than men.

Girls are most likely to have their first migraine headache in their teens and it usually occurs with the start of menstruation. This time of hormonal upheaval can be a factor in many conditions, but it does seem that the decline in the blood level of estrogen during the onset of menstruation is a trigger. It may be that it is the fluctuating levels of estrogen, rather than the estrogen itself, that are at the root of this condition. Our central nervous system is highly sensitive in responding to hormonal fluctuation and it is an entirely normal reaction.

How women are affected

Once out of the teenage years, there is a marked increase in the number of women suffering migraines, mostly after the age of 40. The good news is that it does seem to diminish once menopause starts, so that is one potential blessing!

Many women as part of their PMS symptoms do suffer from headaches, but they usually cease when the period starts. Migraines related to menstruation tend to happen 2 days before and 2 days after the period’s onset and the first day is when they are most likely.

A headache is a headache, but migraine is unmistakable because of its distinct symptoms. The pain is intense and often on one side of the head only and you will be highly sensitive to light and sound. Nausea is common and any movement makes it worse with many experiencing disturbance to the vision – seeing flashing lights or an aura around objects.

Some things can make it worse, the contraceptive pill for instance has been linked to an increase in migraines but some women have found that it has improved them – that hormone fluctuation may have been balanced out by the pill. If you are on the pill for either contraception, or to control heavy bleeding, then talk to your doctor about the dosage of estrogen you are receiving as the migraine risk is linked to that, and not the the progestin the pills contain.

What can help?

There is no permanent cure for migraines, though there are things that can help. First identify if you have a specific trigger that brings on your migraine and avoid it.

The most common triggers are:

* stress
* sleep disturbances
* fasting
* hormone imbalance
* bright or flickering lights
* odours
* cigarette smoke
* alcohol
* cheese
* chocolate
* monosodium glutamate
* aspartame
* caffeine

Natural help can include the mineral magnesium, the herb feverfew and 5-HTP. The latter is a compound produced in the body from the amino acid tryptophan to make the neurotransmitter serotonin and the hormone melatonin in the body. Therapies that many have found relief with include acupuncture, chiropractic and biofeedback.