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

Menopause and Migraines

While migraine headaches can be a detriment to women of all ages, they can be especially troublesome in women who are undergoing menopausal changes. Migraine headaches can range from being simply a mild nuisance to the other end of the spectrum-so debilitating as to prevent the sufferer from engaging in normal, everyday activities. It has long been known that migraines are linked to a woman's hormones-they occur five times as often in women as in men. At least one third of all women experience some level of migraine headache prior to menopause, and this percentage increases during menopause.

What is a Migraine?

Although there are several types of migraine headaches, they are generally recurrent and throbbing and will typically be felt on one side of the head but in some women they will affect both sides. Migraines can last from a couple of hours to three days, and often are accompanied by nausea and sensitivity to light and sound-an occasionally smells as well. The sufferer will likely feel tired and weak, and the pain will intensify during routine physical activity, or even lowering the head or coughing.

Types of Migraines

Menstrual migraines are related to monthly hormones, and generally show up on the first day or two of the menstrual cycle, subsiding by the end of the cycle. During menopause, women may have a migraine with an aura, which will be experienced around thirty minutes prior to the actual pain arriving. Auras are characterized by bright, shimmery lights around objects you are looking at, or at the edge of your field of vision. They can also manifest in wavy images, zigzag lines or even a type of hallucination. The aura experienced by some is known as a non-visual aura and brings dizziness, vertigo, tingling and numbness to the sufferer. Other migraines will occur without the aura, and their arrival is generally heralded by extreme tiredness or mood swings up to twenty-four hours before the pain arrives.

Underlying Causes of Menopausal Migraines

Menopausal migraines can be expected to begin to decrease in frequency and severity so that by the age of 65, they should have diminished to the point that the woman experiences no more than four or five migraines per year. The exception to this general rule lies in whether you have a mother or a sister who had worsening migraines during menopause. In this case you can likely expect the same pattern, as there definitely seems to be a genetic link to menopausal migraines. Women with menopausal migraines may have what is known as a "trigger factor," and can be a sleep disorder, depression, medication-induced migraines, allergic rhinitis-and menopause itself. Menopausal migraines can be brought about by the estrogen deficiency which accompanies menopause, therefore hormone replacement might be an appropriate treatment for the woman who suffers severe migraines as well as other menopausal symptoms.

Prevention of Menopausal Migraines

Some over-the-counter products which menopausal women have found helpful include CoQ10, vitamin B2 and magnesium supplements, however this regimen can often take up to three months to kick in and really help menopausal migraines. Others have found black cohosh to be effective, and the herb dong quai has been shown to reduce the incidence of migraines in some menopausal women. "Rescue" medicines such as Excedrin and Imitrex would still be used for migraine pain. Hot coffee or tea can lessen the pain of a migraine in some, and eating a healthy, balanced diet while avoiding "triggers" like chocolate and alcohol can also go a long way in fighting the headaches which come with menopause.