Migraines, Headaches, and Hormones
Menopause seems to bring an increase in migraines and headaches in women, so what can you do about it?
Several types of headaches are linked to changing levels of the hormones oestrogen and progesterone.
What Type of Migraine Do You Have?
A menstrual migraine is much like a regular migraine. You may notice:
* Aura before the headache (not everyone gets this)
* Throbbing pain on one side of your head
* Sensitivity to light and sound
A PMS headache that comes before your period might have a few different symptoms:
* Head pain
* Joint pain
* Peeing less
* Lack of coordination
* Bigger appetite
* Cravings for chocolate, salt, or alcohol
What affects migraines?
Women often get menstrual migraines anywhere from 2 days before their period to 3 days after it starts. But anything that changes these hormone levels can cause them.
The degree to which those levels shift, not the change itself, determines how severe they are.
There can be several reasons for why those levels change and these are=the most common.
The pill can make migraines worse for some women and lessen them for others. Three weeks out of every month, they keep the hormones in your body steady.
When you take placebo pills or no pills at all, during the week of your period, your oestrogen levels plummet and your head can pound.
If you’re prone to hormonal migraines, taking birth control that contains low amounts of oestrogen may help.
Hormone replacement therapy
This can definitely affect women as it is known to set off headaches in sensitive or susceptible women.
If this is happening to you, then you may be better to switch from a pill based form to having an oestrogen patch. This is less likely to make headaches worse than other types of oestrogen, because it gives you a low, steady dose of the hormone.
if you are going to be using oestrogen only HRT and then you would certainly be better to balance that with bioidentical progesterone to keep your hormones supported and reduce the health risks associated with oestrogen dominance.
Does it seem like you always get migraines right around your period? You’re not imagining that the two are linked.
About 60% of women with migraine get a type of headache called menstrual migraines. Right before your period, the amount of oestrogen and progesterone in your body drop. This drastic change can trigger throbbing headaches.
In some women this can be related more to the drop in oestrogen levels, particularly if you are already supporting your body with progesterone, so in the week leading up to your period it can sometimes be helpful to have a small amount of oestrogen by using a combination cream with both progesterone and oestrogen during that time.
In the years before menopause hormone levels go on a roller-coaster ride. Many women get both tension headaches, which result from stress, and migraines during this time.
During the first trimester, oestrogen levels rise quickly, then level out. Because of this, many women notice that their migraines get better or go away after their third month of pregnancy.
If you still get headaches, don’t take any drugs. Many migraine medicines are bad for your baby so try over-the-counter pain relievers first but check with your pharmacist or doctor for any contraindications before you take it.
What can help?
NSAIDs: A non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug like ibuprofen is sometimes all you need to treat a menstrual migraine. You can buy these over the counter, or your doctor can prescribe a stronger version, but always check first that they are suitable for you.
If your period comes every month like clockwork, you can start these drugs a few days before your bleeding starts and continue for up to a week. This often prevents the migraine from coming on.
If your period doesn’t always stick to a schedule, your doctor may suggest you try a different type of drug that will prevent a headache from happening in the first place.
Noninvasive nerve stimulation (nVNS) therapy: These handheld devices are worn on your forehead, neck or arm and allow the patient to self-administer a mild electrical pulse to the vagus nerve and bring relief from migraine pain.
Home Remedies and Alternative Treatments
Here are options, but it will need you to see what makes a difference for you, as we are all different and some may respond positively but others won’t see improvement, or even feel worse.
Always monitor your condition with any supplements to get the best from them as you may need a different dosage or frequency from others depending on the severity of your headaches.
Acupuncture. This ancient Chinese practice that involves inserting needles along energy points in your body may lower the number of tension headaches you get and could help prevent migraines.
BiofeedbackButterbur/Coltsfoot: An extract made from the rhizome or underground stem of this plant may lower the number of migraines you have and make the headaches less severe.
Side effects may include belching and other mild tummy troubles.. Be sure to look for supplements that are free from pyrrolizidine alkaloids, which are known to cause liver damage and cancer.
Coenzyme Q10: This antioxidant, available as a supplement, may help prevent headaches.
Feverfew: This herb may prevent migraines, but supplements can cause aches, pains, and mouth sores.
Ice. Hold a cold cloth or an ice pack to the painful area on your head or neck. Wrap the ice pack in a towel to protect your skin.
Limit salt. Eating too many salty foods could also lead to headaches. It’s wise to limit the amount of salt you eat around the time of your period.
Massage. There’s some evidence that shows it can help ease migraines, but again, doctors aren’t exactly sure how it works.
Magnesium. Low levels of this mineral can lead to headaches. Supplements may help. But they can give you diarrhoea.
Relaxation techniques. These include progressive muscle relaxation, guided imagery, and breathing exercises. There is not a lot of ‘proof’ but many find it can be helpful.
Riboflavin. Also known as B2, this vitamin may help prevent migraines. B vitamins are always best taken as a complex rather than separately
Clearly there is a strong link between hormones and migraines and headaches so hormone balance is essential for women throughout life.
Dr. Uzi Reiss, in his book, “Natural Hormone Balance for Women”, advocates treating Pre-Menstrual Migraines with bio-identical oestrogen and natural progesterone which stabilises hormone levels. What many women find effective is to use Serenity from days 14-23 of their cycle and then 20-1 with its combined progesterone and oestrogen content from days 24-28.
Dr. Broda Barnes, an American physician and professor of medicine who studied endocrine dysfunction, pointed out that frequent migraines can also be associated with low thyroid function. Even low blood sugar can be a causative factor.