Migraine headaches can be triggered by many things, including certain foods, stress and weather changes, but the most common cause for women is hormonal fluctuations. Hormone-related migraines are particularly likely to happen around menstruation. Just before one's period begins, estrogen drops.
"Serotonin decreases, too, and that can trigger a menstrual migraine," says Bushra Malik, MD, a neurologist at Main Line Health King of Prussia. "These usually occur the day before, the day of or the day after the onset of menstruation."
Throbbing pain on one side of the head is characteristic of hormone-related migraines. You may also have symptoms such as:
- Light sensitivity
The symptoms may last for one day or can linger for several days at a time. For some people living with migraines, the effects are far-reaching, affecting sleep and overall well-being, even job and career as well as family and social life. That's why it's so important to find a doctor who specializes in migraines if headaches are interrupting your life.
Hormone-related migraines and life changes
Puberty and menopause also involve large fluctuations in hormones and can bring on migraines for some. On the other hand, while pregnancy comes with many changes to the body, Dr. Malik says estrogen and progesterone levels tend to stabilize during this time. This leads to a decline in headaches for many. Whatever phase of life you're in, if migraines are a problem for you, it's possible hormones are at play.
Treating menstrual migraines
For younger patients dealing with hormonal changes related to puberty, Dr. Malik recommends over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen and naproxen, for pain relief. Adults may also want to try a migraine-specific medication to prevent or decrease the severity of their headaches.
If you experience mood changes, a drop in energy level or migraines in the days around your period, you're not alone—and you don't have to suffer.
"It's not your fault," Dr. Malik says. "It is hormones, and if it is a significant problem for you, there are medicines that may help you get a steady state of serotonin to boost your mood and reduce your headaches."