It has been estimated that 70% of migraine sufferers are female. Of these female migraine sufferers, 60% to 70% report a menstrual relationship to their migraine attacks.
What is the relationship between hormones and headaches?
Headaches in women, particularly migraines, have been related to changes in the levels of estrogen during a woman’s menstrual cycle. (Estrogen is a female hormone.) Levels of estrogen drop immediately before the start of the menstrual flow (menses).
Premenstrual migraines regularly occur during or after the time when the female hormones, estrogen and progesterone, decrease to their lowest levels.
Migraine attacks typically disappear during pregnancy. In one study, 64 percent of women who described a menstrual link to their headaches noted that their headaches disappeared during pregnancy. However, some women have reported the initial onset of migraines during the first trimester of pregnancy, with disappearance of their headaches after the third month of pregnancy.
What triggers migraines in women?
Birth control pills, as well as hormone replacement therapy for menopause, can change the frequency or severity of headaches. If you notice your headache getting worse after starting one of these medications, it may be worthwhile to ask your physician for an agent that contains a lower dose of estrogen, or request a change from an interrupted dosing regimen to a continuous one.
What are the treatment options for menstrual migraine?
The medications of choice in the treatment of menstrual migraine are non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs).
The NSAIDS most often used for menstrual migraine include:
- Ketoprofen (Orudis®)
- Ibuprofen (Advil® and Motrin®)
- Fenoprofen calcium (Nalfon®)
- Naproxen (Naprosyn®)
- Nabumetone (Relafen®)
Therapy with the NSAID should be started two to three days before the onset of the menstrual flow and continued through the flow. Because the therapy is of short duration, the risk of gastrointestinal side effects is limited.
Other medications prescribed include:
- Small doses of ergotamine (including Bellergal-S®) or a similar compound, methylergonovine maleate (for example, Methergine®)
- Beta blocker drugs such as propranolol
- Anticonvulsants such as valporate
- Calcium channel blockers such as veraperamil
These drugs should also be started two to three days pre-menses and continued throughout the menstrual flow.
Because fluid retention is often associated with menses, diuretics have been used to prevent menstrual migraine. Some physicians may recommend that the patient follow a salt-restricted diet immediately before the start of menses.
Leuprolide (Lupron®) is a medication that affects hormone levels and is used only when all other treatment methods have been tried and have been unsuccessful.
What are the treatment options for menopausal migraine?
For patients who need to continue post-menopausal estrogen supplements, the patient should be started on the lowest dose of these agents, on an uninterrupted basis. Instead of seven days off the drug, the patient should take it on a daily basis. By maintaining a steady dose of estrogen, the headaches may be prevented. An estrogen patch (such as Estraderm®) may be effective in stabilizing the levels of estrogen.
What are the treatment options for migraine during pregnancy?
During pregnancy, no treatment is recommended to treat migraines. Medication therapy used to treat migraines can affect the uterus and can cross the placenta and affect the baby, so these medications should be strictly avoided.
A mild analgesic can be used for pain, such as acetaminophen. It is imperative that pregnant women suffering from headaches discuss the safety of headache medications with their obstetricians and headache specialists.
- National Headache Foundation. Headache Types: Hormone www.headaches.org/ Accessed 2/1/2012
- Ropper A.H., Samuels M.A. (2009). Chapter 10. Headache and Other Craniofacial Pains. In A.H. Ropper, M.A. Samuels (Eds), Adams and Victor's Principles of Neurology, 9e. Retrieved February 1, 2012 from www.accessmedicine.com/.
- Pakalnis, A., Gladstein, J. Headaches and Hormones, Seminars in Pediatric Neurology, Volume 17, Issue 2, June 2010, Pages 100-104, ISSN 1071-9091, 10.1016/j.spen.2010.04.007. www.sciencedirect.com/
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