What’s the Connection Between Hormones & Headaches?
Headaches have multiple causes, and for many women, hormones can be major culprits. If you are prone to headaches, fluctuating hormones due to menstruation, pregnancy or menopause can make them worse or increase their frequency. In fact, 60 percent of women report menstrual migraines. Oral contraceptives and hormone-replacement therapies can also cause hormone levels to fluctuate, leading to headaches. Learn the factors that contribute to headaches and what you can do to get help.
Many women experience headaches that are more frequent or severe before or during menstruation. Estrogen and progesterone levels drop right before the start of menstruation and stay low until it ends.
Estrogen levels increase during pregnancy, so some women experience headaches early in pregnancy. These hormone-induced headaches typically subside after the first trimester, but may return after giving birth, when estrogen levels decrease. The physical changes that occur after delivery, along with the stress of having a new baby and lack of sleep, may cause headaches that are more intense than normal.
Pregnant women may experience tension headaches any time during pregnancy, but these headaches aren’t hormone related.
If you’re pregnant or nursing, ask your doctor about the safety of using pain relievers, because some may be harmful to your baby.
Perimenopause and Menopause
Hormone-related headaches often become more frequent and severe during the years leading up to menopause. Hormones fluctuate and can trigger migraines. Hormone-replacement therapy has mixed results – for some women, headaches improve, but for others, they get worse.
Birth control pills alter the natural rise and fall of hormone levels, so women who use oral contraceptives may experience headaches during the last week of their cycles.
How to Know if it’s a Hormonal Headache
Menstrual or hormonal headaches are similar to regular migraines. These headaches may be preceded by an aura, and women may feel throbbing pain on one side of their heads. They might also experience the following symptoms:
- Nausea or vomiting
- Constipation or decreased urination
- Food cravings
- Joint pain
Treatment for Hormonal Headaches
If you have several headaches a month, your doctor may recommend NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) or prescription headache medications. A physician can review other medical history to determine which medications will be most effective in treating hormonal headaches. Lifestyle changes, including regular physical activity, relaxation exercises to lower stress, and a healthy diet may also decrease the frequency of headaches.
Women with regular periods should begin taking medication a few days before it starts and continue for two weeks. Physicians may recommend that women with irregular periods or more frequent or severe headaches take medication daily to control symptoms.
Some birth control methods might help with menstrual migraines. If the one you’re taking seems to make them worse, talk with your doctor to see if there’s something that might work differently with your body.
Women’s Medical Associates of Nashville provides expert gynecology and obstetrics services. We can help you reduce the symptoms of menstrual migraines. Contact us today to speak with the most experienced OB/GYNs in Nashville.