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

Dealing with Hormonally Caused Migraines

Being a woman has a lot of pluses but when it comes to migraines, being a woman means a greater susceptibility. Along with the contributing factors (for both men and women) of family history and age, women often experience headaches due to hormonal changes in the body.

Oh, Those Hormones

The primary female hormones - progesterone and estrogen - are key players in pregnancy and menstruation and they may figure into the brain chemical relationship that of headaches. A higher level of estrogen may cause improvement in headaches while lower levels can make a bad headache even worse. However, even though headaches are affected by fluctuating hormones, a woman is not necessarily at the mercy of her body's whims. There are a number of things your doctor can do to help, or even prevent, headaches.

Menstrual Headache Relief

Many women experience migraine headaches just prior to the onset of menses. This is due to the drop in estrogen and the headaches can occur before or during menstruation. Applying ice or a cold cloth to the painful area on the head or neck may give relief. Massaging the tight muscles in the neck and shoulders and at the back of the head is also effective in dealing with headaches related to menstruation. Anti-inflammatory drugs and over-the-counter pain medications are helpful in relieving the pain of menstrual headaches, but, if it becomes necessary, a prescription pain reliever can help where lifestyle changes fail to work.

Birth Control Methods May Need Changing

For some women, the onset of migraines coincides with the start of taking birth control pills or other types of hormonal birth control. Other women may experience a change in existing headache patterns - for better or worse. If birth control methods trigger migraines or worsen existing headaches, contact the doctor. Some ideas that may be helpful include reducing the number of inactive days in the pill pack or eliminating the placebo days all together. Using an estrogen-containing skin patch during the inactive week of the birth control pill cycle can help as well. Another method may be to try a progestin-only birth control pill or another type of contraception that isn't hormonally related.

Pregnancy Challenges

Estrogen levels rise rapidly and remain high during pregnancy. Migraines may either appear or disappear during this time. However, tension headaches seem to come and stay, never really improving during pregnancy. After the baby is born, the levels of estrogen suddenly decrease triggering headaches. If a woman is pregnant and experiencing migraine or tension headaches, her doctor should be consulted for treatment. Many medications prescribed for headaches have harmful or dangerous repercussions for the baby, especially if they are taken at the time of conception. Breastfeeding can also limit the types of medications used to help migraines, but the choices are greater at that time than during pregnancy.