What is a migraine? Why migraine happens. Who gets migraines? Treating migraines.

The Effects of Birth Control on Migraines

Understanding Migraine Headaches

Migraine headaches can be divided into two basic classifications - classic and common. The primary difference between them is that the classic migraine is preceded by an aura, typically occurring between 10 to 30 minutes before for headache manifests. An aura is often visual, including the appearance of zigzag lines or flashing lights. Sometimes vision is lost temporarily. Other types of auras include difficulty speaking, confusion, weakness in the limbs or a tingling sensation in the face or hands.

Whether the sufferer has a classic migraine or a common migraine, they will usually be affected on one side of the head with the pain starting in the eye or neck. From that starting point, the headache will move to the other side of the head. Since the blood vessels around and inside the skull change shape and size during a migraine, the headaches are referred to as vascular headaches.

Stroke Risks for Women with Classic Migraines

Research indicates that women who suffer from classic migraines - those heralded with an aura - are at an increased risk for suffering a stroke. Using birth control pills extend that risk considerably and, if a woman smokes, has classic migraines and uses birth control pills, the chances of a stroke are very high.

Using Extended Dosing Birth Control to Ease Menstrual Migraines

The link between birth control pills and menstrual migraines without an aura has to do with the drop in estrogen levels just prior to menses, the point where the placebo week happens in the pill cycle. Many physicians help women who don't smoke and have common migraines through this period by using extended dosing of birth control pills to prevent the estrogen decline that leads to menstrual migraines. Extended dosing means that the woman takes the active portion of the pill pack for three or more months in order to avoid experiencing a month-end drop in estrogen levels and a period. This circumvents the migraine development and, as long as the pill use does not increase headaches or make them worse, it is a viable method of dealing with this type of headache.

Determining Birth Control Methods

Specialists recommend a three-month on, one-week-off use of birth control pills for women who suffer with menstrual migraines. If a woman suffers with classic migraines that have an aura, then a headache specialist should be consulted before birth control pills are introduced. If a woman smokes and has migraines of either type then taking birth control pills is out of the question.

Tension-type headaches are not problematic to the use of birth control pills. It is possible that using an extended dosing method of birth control pills when a woman has menstrual migraines may prove to be beneficial in ending the migraines.