What are hormonal headaches?
Hormonal headaches (also called menstrual migraines) are common before or during a woman’s menstrual cycle. You may experience a dull throbbing headache or extreme pulsing pain, sensitivity to light, nausea, fatigue and dizziness. These symptoms can be treated and prevented.
There are many factors that can cause headaches, including genetics and diet. Menstrual migraines and chronic headaches are often caused by fluctuating hormone levels in women.
During the menstrual cycle, during pregnancy, and during menopause, hormonal levels change. Oral contraceptives and hormone replacement therapies can also affect hormone levels.
Headaches can be relieved by a variety of medicines and treatments. Menopausal women often find relief from hormonal headaches during pregnancy or after they reach menopause.
Read: Post-Traumatic Headache
Symptoms of hormonal headaches
Headaches and migraines are the main characteristics of hormonal headaches. There are nonetheless other symptoms women experience that can help doctors diagnose hormonal headaches.
Menstrual migraines can be as severe as a regular migraine and can be preceded or unaccompanied by an aura. It is a severe pain on one side of the head that is accompanied by a throbbing sensation. It can also be accompanied by nausea or vomiting.
Some other symptoms of hormonal headaches are:
- Decreased appetite
- Joint pain
- A decrease in urination
- Coordination problems
- Food cravings (chocolate, salt, alcohol)
Causes of hormonal headaches
The female hormone estrogen is thought to cause headaches, especially migraine headaches. Estrogen affects chemicals that affect the perception of pain in the brain. It can cause headaches when estrogen levels drop. There are many reasons for changing hormone levels, including:
Menstrual cycle: Approximately one day before menstruation, estrogen and progesterone levels are at their lowest.
Pregnancy: The level of estrogen increases during pregnancy. Many pregnant women do not experience hormonal headaches. The first migraines may occur during early pregnancy but may resolve after the first trimester. The level of estrogen drops rapidly after giving birth.
Perimenopause and menopause: Menopause-related hormone fluctuations can lead to headaches in some women during perimenopause. Most women who suffer from migraine symptoms say their symptoms improve when they reach menopause. However, migraines can also become worse. Hormone replacement therapy may be at the root of this.
Hormone replacement therapy and oral contraceptives: Hormone levels can rise and fall as a result of birth control pills and hormone replacement therapy. The last week of the period is when women with migraines can experience attacks due to hormonal changes caused by the pill.
Other contributing factors
Chronic migraines are thought to be influenced by genetics. People who suffer from migraines often suffer from a combination of factors that cause their headaches. This includes:
- Meal skipping
- Oversleeping or undersleeping
- Bright lights, loud sounds, or strong smells
- Sudden changes in the weather
- Wine and other alcoholic beverages
- Caffeine overdose or withdrawal
- Hard sausages, smoked fish and processed meats
- MSG, or monosodium glutamate
- Aged cheeses
- Soy products
- Artificial sweeteners
What’s the relationship between hormones and headaches?
There is a relationship between estrogen levels in women and headaches, especially migraines. Just before menstruation (menses) begins, estrogen levels drop.
The peak time for premenstrual migraines is often the time when female hormone levels, estrogen and progesterone, are at their lowest.
The risk of migraine attacks during pregnancy usually decreases. Nevertheless, some women report that they started having migraines during the first pregnancy trimester and then stopped.
Read: Sinus Headache
Treatment for hormonal headaches
You will experience more relief from your headache if you start treating it sooner. Here are some ways to relieve your headache:
- Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water
- Sit quietly in a dark room when you experience a headache
- Wrap your head in an ice pack or a cold cloth
- Apply pressure where you are feeling pain
- Engage in deep breathing exercises or other relaxation techniques
If you are suffering from headaches or pain, you can reduce the frequency or severity of headaches with biofeedback. If your doctor recommends taking magnesium supplements, this can assist with reducing headache intensity. It is also beneficial to reduce your stress level in your life in order to prevent headaches and migraines. Acupuncture and massage can also be used to treat headaches and migraines.
There are medications designed to treat acute conditions. Headache or migraine medications are usually taken as soon as they begin. Here are some examples:
- NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) such as ibuprofen, are available over-the-counter
- Triptans are medications for migraines that can reduce symptoms
The use of preventive therapy and medications can help women who experience frequent hormonal headaches. Medications like these may be taken every day or before the time during your cycle when hormonal headaches are most likely to occur. Such medications include:
- Beta blockers
- Calcium channel blockers
Read: Chronic Tension Headache
Hormone therapy may be prescribed for depression if preventive medication is not effective. It is possible to take estrogen by pill or pitch daily.
Hormone imbalances and hormonal headaches are commonly treated with birth control pills. It’s possible that your doctor will adjust your dosage if you are taking hormonal contraceptives and experience hormonal headaches. If you have symptoms related to estrogen, your doctor may switch your medication to one with a lower dose.
Some women are advised to start their next pack of birth control early. Those hormone-free placebos should not be taken during the last week of the pack. Taking this medicine for three to six months can lower the frequency of attacks.
During pregnancy or breastfeeding
Discuss all of your medications with your doctor if you plan on getting pregnant, believe you may be pregnant or are breastfeeding. You may be harming your baby by taking some headache medications. Consult your doctor for an alternative.
Read: Cluster Headaches
During menopause or perimenopause
Whenever you experience a headache increase while taking hormone replacement therapy medication, consult your doctor. It is possible to lessen headache frequency and severity with an estrogen patch that administers a low, steady dose of estrogen.
Preventing hormonal headaches
Doctors may recommend preventive medicines to women with regular periods. Premenstrual syndrome occurs around two weeks before your period. Some women may require daily medication.
A headache journal is a great way to log all the things that affect you, such as your diet, exercise and menstrual cycle. You can identify potential triggers through this.
You may be able to: ask your doctor if you are taking oral contraceptives:
- Change to a regimen that does not include placebo days
- Reduce the dose of estrogen in the pills
- Substitute low-dose estrogen tablets for the placebo days
- If needed, wear an estrogen patch during the placebo week
- Switch to oral contraceptives with progesterone only
Take birth control pills if you currently don’t, and ask your doctor if taking them would relieve your hormonal headaches.
Read: Hemicrania Continua
Symptoms of complications and emergencies
Migraine sufferers are more likely to suffer from:
- Sleep disturbances
Menstrual migraines and hormonal headaches can also cause these complications in women.
The risk of strokes and blood clots is slightly higher for women who take oral contraceptives and estrogen. High blood pressure patients and people with a stroke family history are more likely to develop problems.
Symptoms that indicate you need urgent medical attention include sudden, severe headaches, accompanied by:
- Stiff neck
- Breathing difficulties
- Vision loss
- Other severe symptoms