Millions of Americans deal with regular migraine headaches, but did you know that 7 in 10 migraine sufferers are women? This is largely due to fluctuations in estrogen production. During menopause, a woman’s estrogen levels decrease, and this may have an impact on your migraines.
Women experience headaches and migraines in many different ways. In some women, headaches are linked to hormonal fluctuations, and they tend to come and go with their menstrual cycle. For these women, menopause may actually provide some welcome relief from migraines.
For others, migraines may worsen or just start for the first time at perimenopause. If you’ve begun hormone replacement therapy, you might find headaches springing up as a side effect.
What Does a Migraine Feel Like?
Migraines are moderate or severe headaches characterized by a throbbing pain, which usually hurts worse on one side of the head. The sufferer might experience nausea or vomiting, or feel especially sensitive to light or noise. Any type of physical activity only aggravates a migraine. A migraine can last anywhere from 5 hours to three days.
What is a Migraine with “Aura”?
Sometimes a migraine is just a migraine, but other times, a migraine is immediately preceded by some other strange symptoms, called the “aura.” These symptoms include:
- A tingling or numb sensation in the face or fingers
- Mild visual hallucinations, like flashing lights or floating shapes
- Temporary blindness in peripheral vision
- Distortions in perception, like sense of taste, touch, or smell
- Confusion, mental fog
What are the Causes of Migraines?
The causes of migraines aren’t well-understood, but medical researchers believe that fluctuating hormones play an important role. Changes in your brain chemistry can cause your brain’s blood vessels to swell, pushing on nerves. Migraines run in the family and are more common in women than in men.
People who suffer from migraines report that their headaches are oftentimes triggered by:
- Lack of sleep
- Bright lights
When more than one of these triggers line up simultaneously, they’re even more likely to trigger a migraine.
Treating Migraines During Menopause
One thing that might be helpful for your doctor is if you keep a diary to log instances of migraines. This will help you answer your doctors’ questions, such as, what time of day and how often do your migraines occur? How would you rate the pain? Did anything trigger the migraine? How long did it last and did anything help mitigate the pain?
You and your doctor can discuss ways to reduce migraines, such as getting plenty of sleep, using relaxation techniques, and changing your diet. Your doctor may recommend biofeedback therapy – a type of therapy in which the patient learns, with the help of a machine and licensed therapist, to voluntarily control bodily responses. Some patients have also had success with acupuncture.
Some treatment options for migraines include:
Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS)
These drugs, which include ibuprofen (Advil and Motrin) and aspirin, may relieve migraine headaches.
Acetaminophen (Tylenol) and Excedrin Migraine
These over the counter medications may also provide relief of migraines.
Triptans (tryptamine-based serotonin receptor agonists)
These drugs include Imitrex, Maxalt, Axert, and Zomig. They work by causing constriction of blood vessels and blocking pain pathways in the brain.
Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT)
Hormone treatment might ease migraines in some women while exacerbating them in others. Speak with your doctor about your concerns.
May be helpful in treating chronic migraine headaches.
Certain cardiovascular drugs, antidepressants, and anti-seizure drugs seem to prevent or reduce the frequency of migraine headaches.
Vitamins and minerals
Supplementation of coenzyme Q10, magnesium, and high doses of vitamin B2 may also prevent or reduce the frequency of headaches.