Most of us often suffer from headaches due to stress or an unhealthy diet. It can resolve with some rest or over-the-counter drugs. But do you know hormonal changes can be a trigger factor for headaches? Many women noticed that before starting menstruation, they encounter frequent headaches. Chronic headaches and menstrual migraine may occur due to fluctuations in reproductive hormones during various stages of a woman’s life.
Many factors can cause hormonal fluctuation in women, including pre-menstruation symptoms and menopausal changes. The estrogen and progesterone hormones play a crucial role in hormonal headaches. Estrogen and progesterone are steroid hormones vital to female reproductive organ development, fertility, pregnancy maintenance, and menstruation regulation. Changes in estrogen hormone levels can worsen headaches in women.
Although hormonal changes can influence migraine and chronic headaches, they are not the solemn reason for headaches in women. That’s why women are three times more prone to migraine than men. A person suffering from migraine describes it as severe throbbing and pulsating pain, especially on one side of the head.
What are the causes of hormonal headaches?
Several studies have found a link between migraine headaches and estrogen levels, which regulate pain-sensing chemicals in the brain. A sudden decline in estrogen hormone levels may exacerbate migraine and chronic headaches. Various conditions can trigger estrogen fluctuation in women, such as:
- Menstruation period: Before the menstruation cycle, women may experience a sudden drop in estrogen and progesterone levels, causing various pre-menstruation symptoms, including migraine. Women having irregular periods or heavy menstruation have more fluctuation in hormonal levels and frequent hormonal-related migraine episodes. It can occur between two days before to three days after the start of the period.
- Perimenopause period: In the years just before menopause, the estrogen levels show frequent ups and downs. Therefore, some women experience migraines for the first time or have more intense headaches, while some notice less severe and scanty migraine episodes as they approach menopause.
- Hormonal replacement therapy (HRT) and contraceptive measures: Birth control pills, vaginal rings, patches, and HRT may cause fluctuation in hormonal levels, which can improve or worsen migraine and other headaches.
- Few weeks after delivery: During pregnancy, a woman may experience improved or completely disappear migraines or headaches due to a surge of estrogen hormones. But, after a few weeks of baby birth, the estrogen levels start dropping. In addition, stress, change in sleep habits, and irregular eating habits may trigger migraine.
What are the symptoms of hormonal migraine?
The prime symptom of hormonal migraine is similar to a regular migraine, including an intense throbbing and pulsating pain, especially on one side of the head. The headache may or may not be associated with an aura. Regardless of headache, many women may encounter other symptoms, such as:
- Nausea or vomiting
- Loss of appetite
- Cravings for sweet or salt
- Loss of coordination
- Muscle and joint pain
- Sensitivity to light
What is the treatment for hormonal migraine?
The treatment of hormonal migraine depends on the underlying situation. It involves symptomatic treatment and preventive care.
Preventive care includes home and natural remedies.
- Home care remedies:
Many women stated that some home remedies and preventive methods are beneficial in their migraine episodes, such as:
- Resting in a dark room and trying to sleep
- Placing a cool soaked towel over their forehead or nape of the neck
- Massage the pained area
- Stay hydrated
- Avoid stress
- Try deep breathing
- Eating in small portions to maintain blood sugar levels
- Regular meditation and mindfulness training can reduce the frequency of migraine episodes
- Vitamins and mineral supplements, especially a magnesium supplement
- Acupuncture medicine
- Essential oils
The healthcare provider may suggest some medicines to cure the acute symptoms after the onset of a migraine episode. The following are some drugs that can help with hormonal migraine:
- Over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
- Triptans, a migraine-specific medicine
- If a female has a history of frequent hormonal migraine attacks during menstruation cycles, the healthcare provider may recommend beta blockers, antidepressants, or calcium-channel blockers.
- Skip the hormonal-free placebo pills and continue your contraceptive pills.
- If you are on hormonal replacement therapy during the perimenopausal or menopausal time and experience frequent severe headaches, ask your healthcare provider for a dose adjustment.
- If you are pregnant or breastfeeding and experiencing headaches, you can try yoga, meditation, stress reduction, and acupuncture for relief. You can take pain-relief medication after the consultation with your doctor.
Hormonal migraine has similar symptoms to migraine and occurs due to a sudden fall in estrogen hormone levels. Meditation, change in eating habits, mindfulness, and medications can improve hormonal headaches.
Dr. Amit Shrivastava, Senior Consultant – Neurology, Dharamshila Narayana Superspeciality Hospital, New Delhi