Help for menstrual-related migraines


Help for menstrual-related migraines

When it comes to headaches – especially migraines - being female does not help.  Even though both men and women can be affected by the throbbing pain that can sometimes be accompanied by nausea and vomiting, women are more likely to have the unique experience of experiencing headaches due to their menstrual cycle.

Why does the menstrual cycle increase migraines?

Blame it on hormonal fluctuations, the relationship between headaches and hormones is quite noticeable.  Key players in this monthly drama are the hormones estrogen and progesterone. Both of these hormones are involved in regulating a woman’s menstrual cycle and pregnancy and can also be involved in affecting headache-related chemicals in the brain.

Approximately 60% of women suffer migraines during their menstrual cycle.  They may occur before, during, or immediately after the period, or during ovulation.

Typically, higher estrogen levels will prevent migraine headaches, whereas lower estrogen levels will result in a migraine headache. Menstrual migraines can be triggered by the drastic drop in the amount of estrogen and progesterone right before a period begins which can bring on throbbing headaches. This change in the levels of hormones is what makes women vulnerable to headaches during this time of the month since estrogen levels drop to their lowest point when a woman is menstruating.  Women using oral contraceptives which influence estrogen levels may also experience more menstrual migraines. 

The symptoms of menstrual migraines are similar to migraines without aura.  They can begin as a one-sided, throbbing headache accompanied by nausea, vomiting, or sensitivity to bright lights and sounds. 

Keep in mind that every woman reacts differently to hormones.  Some women may have hormone-related migraines even when she is not on her period.  There can be multiple potential triggers for migraines such as certain foods or a change in sleep pattern. 

Other possible migraine triggers along with the menstrual cycle for women can be lifestyle and environment. Weather changes, altitude changes, bright lights, stress, smells, cheeses, caffeine, monosodium glutamate (MSG), nitrates, or aspartame are just some of a long list of potential triggers.

Treatments effective for menstrual-related migraines

When experiencing a menstrual-related migraine, the most effective treatments are ones that can bring as much relief as fast as possible.  Fortunately, there are several different treatments that are often effective for doing just that:

·      Don’t skip meals or fast.  Your body needs nourishing foods coming in at regular intervals (breakfast, lunch, dinner) to prevent a drop in blood sugar leading to hypoglycemia, which will only make headaches worse.

·      Take the same medications you’d take for normal migraines.  Over-the-counter drugs such as Excedrin migraine, a combination of aspirin, acetaminophen and caffeine, can help as well as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory pain relief medications such as aspirin, Aleve, and Ibuprofen.

·      Triptans are another source of relief for menstrual-related migraines.  Triptans are a class of medications that have been used to help women who get migraines around the time of their period.  A doctor can prescribe the medication which work by blocking pain signals in the brain.  They often relieve pain from the headache within two hours and also help to control vomiting.   

·      Applying ice held in a cold cloth or an ice pack to the area of the head hurting can be effective.  To protect skin from direct contact with ice, wrap the ice pack in a towel.

·      Relaxation techniques or exercises such as deep breathing helping to lower stress related to a migraine headache can be helpful.

·      For women looking for a non-drug treatment option, acupuncture may be their answer. Acupuncture has been shown to help reduce migraines for days and may have lasting effects.   

·      Biofeedback is another non-drug alternative treatment that may improve menstrual-related migraines.  This technique may help by training the body how to respond to stress more effectively.

·      For women who suffer from debilitating headaches every month, they may need a more preventative treatment regimen from their doctor of regular use of NSAIDS or triptans.  They may be advised to take these medications starting a few days before their period and continuing up to two weeks after the start of the cycle.

·      Another natural alternative is using a magnesium supplement.  Some research has shown low brain magnesium level during a migraine attack.  Magnesium is needed for proper nerve function, so it is thought that magnesium deficiency and migraines may be related. Before taking any supplement however, check with your doctor if this would be appropriate as magnesium supplements do have contraindications for some people.  Otherwise, include more magnesium rich foods in the diet. 

·      The FDA recently approved a wearable device for the treatment of acute migraines. It uses remote electrical neuromodulation to treat acute migraine pain; the user wears the device on the back of the upper arm, operated with a smartphone-controlled Nerivio Migra that uses electronic pulses to help “turn off” migraine pain.