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Hijacked by Hormones? Women and Migraines

Nan Kuhlman Nan Kuhlman April 19, 2019

Women are 3.25 times more likely than men to suffer from migraines. If you’re female and think that your migraines are somehow connected to your monthly cycle, you might be right. Though it is controversial to suggest that female sex hormones may be responsible, one study’s results reveal that more than half of its female participants showed a correlation between the menstrual cycle and the occurrence of migraines. Understanding how female hormones are potentially tied to migraines can help physicians figure out the best way to treat migraines in women. In addition, tracking your own symptoms provides the data needed to determine if your migraines are hormone-related.

More research is pointing toward hormone fluctuations as a potential culprit in women’s migraines. A study published in Frontiers in Molecular Biosciences explains the female hormone connection to migraines and how “sex hormones affect cells around the trigeminal nerve [located in the face and responsible for biting and chewing] and connected blood vessels in the head, with estrogens — at their highest levels in women of reproductive age — being particularly important for sensitizing these cells to migraine triggers.” The researchers’ results suggest that estrogen and its fluctuating levels may be to blame for triggering a migraine attack in some women. Other recent studies state, in fact, that it is how fast the estrogen levels drop during a woman’s monthly cycle which provokes a migraine. This drop in estrogen becomes even more pronounced as a woman moves into perimenopause, that period of time when a woman’s body transitions from her reproductive years into menopause. Another indicator that estrogen levels might be to blame is that once a woman moves into menopause and estrogen levels remain low, the frequency and severity of migraines decrease dramatically.

 

As a result, physicians sometimes will prescribe hormone-replacement-therapy (HRT) to balance hormone levels and reduce migraines. For perimenopausal women, transdermal patches applied to the skin seem to work better than oral contraceptives in decreasing the frequency and intensity of migraines. However, the use of HRT or oral contraceptives is discouraged if a perimenopausal woman suffering from migraines also has cardiovascular issues, such as high blood pressure or blood clots, if she has other hormone-related conditions like polycystic ovary syndrome or endometriosis, or if she is a smoker.

Keeping a log of your migraine symptoms and tracking where they appear in your cycle might be a good idea. When a migraine surfaces, you also might record what you ate and what you did in the 24-hour period before it started. Your family history of migraines is important, too, as well as the frequency and duration of your migraine episodes. This information will help your doctor determine if your symptoms are possibly hormone-related or if they might be triggered by food or a specific situation or substance.

 

Just because women experience migraines more frequently than men doesn’t mean that they must put up with pain. Keeping a log of your symptoms will provide your doctor the information needed to find the best treatment for you. Doctorpedia is here to support you in your wellness journey by offering well-researched articles that explain medical topics like migraines in easy-to-understand language. Check them out!

Doctor Profile

Nan Kuhlman

Author

Nan Kuhlman is an author, freelance writer, and part-time university professor based in Los Angeles, CA. She currently works full-time as a technical writer in Los Angeles and part-time as an online adjunct writing instructor. She has written for scholarly publications like the University of California, Davis Writing on the Edge and Chapman University’s Anastamos Interdisciplinary Journal, among others.

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