Migraines and Hormones: What's the Link?
Individuals who suffer from migraines are acutely aware that when one of these throbbing headaches hits, the day is pretty much over. Take some powerful pain reliever and isolate yourself in a dark, quiet room.
Did you know that women are three times more likely than men to get migraines?
Studies have found that 60 to 70 percent of women with migraines related their
attacks to their menstrual cycles, leading experts to believe that hormonal
changes could play a significant role.
Most menstrual migraines occur three to seven days before a woman's period begins. This is the same point in a woman's cycle that her estrogen levels sharply fall. But what causes the headaches? One reason is that estrogen levels affect brain chemicals, such as serotonin, that act as natural painkillers.
When estrogen levels fall, so do levels of these natural painkillers. A woman then becomes more sensitive to other headache triggers, such as bright lights or cigarette smoke.
Another type of migraine occurs during menstruation rather than before. These migraines may be tied to high levels of substances called prostaglandins, in addition to low estrogen levels. A woman's body naturally releases prostaglandins during her period.
PREGNANCY AND MENOPAUSE
The pattern of migraine attacks during pregnancy varies. In one study, a majority of women who suffered migraines before pregnancy saw them disappear for nine months and then return after delivery. Other studies showed two-thirds of women with migraines saying their headaches improved after menopause, when estrogen levels naturally become more stable.
STOPPING THE PAIN
Paul Devers, M.D., a family practice physician on staff at Lourdes Medical Center of Burlington County, said it is critical to first discover the migraine's triggers. Try recording your triggers and the ensuing symptoms in a diary.
Migraines are more likely to result from exposure to a combination of triggers, including:
- alcohol or caffeinated beverages;
- food additives, such as nitrates and MSG;
- perfume or cologne;
- bright lights;
- hunger or stress.
In addition, biofeedback and relaxation techniques may work for some women.
However, Dr. Devers warns that migraine sufferers should consult their physicians if the headaches worsen, as they may be a symptom of a more serious medical problem.
Track Your Triggers
Help determine what's causing your headache using our FREE guide, Track Your Headache Triggers. To get your copy, call 1-888-LOURDES (568-7337).
Paul Devers, M.D.
Dr. Devers is part of Lourdes Medical Associates and maintains his practice at 45 Homestead Drive, Suite B, Columbus, N.J.