What To Know About Menstrual Migraines & How To Manage Them

Photo: Dogukan Sahin via Unsplash
What To Know About Menstrual Migraines & How To Manage Them
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Health And Wellness

By Unwritten

As many of you know, a migraine is a severe headache, often felt primarily on one side of the head. Different people suffer from varying levels of pain when a migraine occurs.

However, the most common symptoms that accompany this type of headache are vomiting, nausea, and sensitivity to light and sound. Migraines can be a serious medical condition that call for medical attention, since the sharp pain can last for hours. Some other patients even experience it for a whole week.

RELATED: Why So Many Women Suffer From Chronic Migraines & How It Affects Their Daily Lives

In most cases, an early sign of an impending migraine is the occurrence of sensory disturbances, known as an aura. This can include visual problems, such as blind spots and flashes of light.

Moreover, medications for migraines vary, depending on the particular type of migraine you are suffering from. There are several types of migraines: chronic, hemiplegic, abdominal, with or without aura, and menstrual — the last being the main focus of this article.

What is a menstrual migraine?

Menstrual migraines are very common, since the condition affects around 20 percent of women in the U.S. It’s triggered by falling levels of a female hormone, estrogen.

According to recent studies, migraines are most likely to happen in the two days leading up to a period and three days after it has began. However, it can have many other causes, which will be addressed below.

Furthermore, it’s vital to know that both women and men can suffer from headaches induced by hormonal changes, with serotonin being the primary culprit. However, for women, menstrual migraines are typically triggered by fluctuations in the level of estrogen — the female hormone that regulates the menstrual cycle.

Nevertheless, menstrual migraines can be caused by a number of things. Some of the most common causes are:

1. Birth control pills

Oral contraceptives can worsen migraines in some women. They’re designed to keep hormones steady for three weeks. But when the week when you’re supposed to get your period comes, you’re not meant to take any pills.

This, in turn, causes the estrogen level to rise and provoke a menstrual migraine. If you suspect that birth control pills are causing your migraines, try discussing different methods of contraception with your doctor.

2. Menstruation

Menstruation is perhaps the primary cause of menstrual migraines. According to various studies, around 20 percent of women suffer from migraines right around their periods.

These migraines are caused by a rapid drop in estrogen and progesterone levels. This drastic reduction may trigger severe headaches in some women. 

3. Menopause

After reaching menopause, most women experience fewer migraines. However, those that embark on hormone replacement therapy report having more severe headaches than the ones who don’t.

When this happens, it’s important to talk to your doctor about it. They might lower the hormone dose or advise you to abandon the medication completely. In such a case, the estrogen patch is usually the preferred option.

RELATED: What Does A Migraine Feel Like? This List Of Symptoms Explains Chronic Migraines Vs Other Types Of Headaches

Regardless of the root cause of your menstrual migraine, there are many prevention methods you can try in order to feel better. Here are some ways you can relieve your menstrual headaches.

1. Hormone therapy

Taking an estrogen supplement can act as a migraine relief. An estrogen patch can help during the menstrual week, since it inhibits the natural estrogen drop that causes menstrual migraines.

This method works well in women who use a vaginal ring or those who are on birth control pills, since it counteracts the negative side effects. 

2. Magnesium supplements

Increasing magnesium intake during the 15th day of the menstruation cycle is an excellent and safe prevention strategy. It also helps your health, so it’s a win-win!

3. Reducing stress

Stress can significantly trigger menstrual migraines. Stress often occurs when one is juggling family, social life, and job responsibilities. It can also occur when one is undergoing a significant loss, such as loss of a loved one, a job, or a divorce.

In order to prevent stress-related headaches, make sure to try some relaxing techniques, such as meditating. Moreover, getting enough sleep, decreasing your alcohol intake, exercising regularly, and quitting smoking are also great ways to reduce stress and improve your overall health.

4. Avoiding food triggers

Stay away from foods that trigger migraines. You should know that food triggers vary from one person to another.

However, there are some foods that are known for increasing migraine symptoms. These include chocolate, processed meat, aged cheese, dried fruits with sulfites, caffeine, red wine, and alcohol.

Avoiding these, especially during your period, can decrease the symptoms and help control them.

Migraines can be a debilitating condition that leads to missing dozens of days of school and work every year. Although there isn’t any cure yet, following the advice above and taking appropriate medication can greatly limit the frequency and severity of the attacks.

RELATED: How To Tell The Difference Between Migraines & Other Types Of Headaches

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Unwritten is a website covering health and wellness, self-care, and self-love. For more of their health and wellness content, visit their site.

This article was originally published at Unwritten. Reprinted with permission from the author.

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