The hormones estrogen and progesterone play key roles in regulating the menstrual cycle. However, these hormones can also affect headache-related chemicals in the brain. The dip in estrogen before your period may cause a headache during menstruation, and estrogen levels that fluctuate can make headaches worse.
However, you’re not entirely at the mercy of your hormones. If headaches are interfering with your daily activities, ask your doctor for help.
Headaches During Menstruation
Many women with migraines report their symptoms worsen before or during menstruation. Effective treatments for migraines can also help treat menstrual headaches.
- Apply cold. Hold an ice pack (wrapped in a towel) or a cold cloth to your head or neck.
- Relaxation exercises. Relaxation techniques, such as breathing techniques, meditation, and some yoga poses, can help relieve headaches.
- Over-the-counter pain relievers. Your healthcare provider may recommend nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB) or naproxen sodium (Aleve).
- Triptans. These prescription medications block pain signals in your brain.
- Combining NSAIDs with triptans.
If your menstrual cycle is regular, your doctor may recommend starting preventive headache medication a few days before your period. If you have irregular periods, your doctor may recommend that you take preventive medications every day, depending on the severity of the headaches.
Making a few changes to your lifestyle—such as drinking water, eating smaller, more frequent meals, reducing stress, and exercising regularly—also may help reduce the frequency, length, and severity of headaches.
Headaches During Perimenopause and Menopause
For many women, headaches may happen more often and with increased severity during the years leading up to menopause (called perimenopause) because hormone levels rise and fall unevenly. After menstrual periods stop, many women find that migraines improve, but tension headaches worsen.
Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) may affect headaches, worsening them in some women, and improving symptoms in others. If you notice that your headaches increase in duration or frequency during HRT, your provider may recommend an estrogen skin patch. Because the patch provides a low, continuous supply of estrogen, it is least likely to aggravate headaches.
If you’re experiencing hormone-induced headaches or migraines, our physicians at Creekside Center for Women would be glad to create an individualized health plan for you. Call our office at 479-582-9268 to set up an appointment.