Hormonal Changes from Menopausal Transition Can Increase Migraine Headaches

Dorian Martin Health Guide
  • I had lunch last week with a middle-aged girlfriend. As we chatted, she recounted an episode when her teenage son developed a migraine headache at school and the staff didn’t totally recognize the situation. After she completed her story, I asked whether she, too, had migraines. She said she was actually experiencing a low-level one while we were enjoying lunch. She said she had developed these headaches later in life and their emergence seemed to coincide when she went into a surgically-induced menopause.

    The Migraine Trust reports that for many people, migraines start happening before the age of 40 and they rarely start later in life. In fact, the frequency and the severity of migraines often decreases – and even disappears -- around the age of 50. However, a small number of studies that looked at the relationship between menopause and migraine headaches found that 45 percent of women reported their migraines get worse as they go through menopause. About the same percentage don’t see a difference in their migraines during this life transition while 15 percent said they noticed an improvement.

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    Not surprisingly, migraines are not a one-size-fits-all condition; instead, these headaches can have a variety of symptoms ranging from a painful headache to sensitivity to light, sound and smells. Some people also may experience disturbed vision while others may feel sick and nauseous.

    Yet these headaches are not to be trifled with since migraines are linked to other health issues. HealthCentral’s Teri Robert, who is a lead expert in migraines, reports that migraines do increase the risk of a stroke, although there is some disagreement about the degree of the increased risk. However, migraines that last more than 72 hours – known as status migrainousus – increase the risk of strokes even further.

    Individuals may experience some sort of trigger that leads to a migraine. The triggers can include external stimuli (such as stress), a physical act or an event. These triggers can happen up to eight hours before the onset of a migraine. While some triggers may seem to be easily identified, others may be more hidden. Therefore, it can be beneficial to keep a migraine diary in which you identify potential triggers. These triggers can include the weather, bowel movements, what you eat and drink, the type of environment you’re in, what you’re doing, when you wake up, your travel schedule, your exercise routine and the medications you take.

    One of the most common triggers can be the fluctuation of hormones, including estrogen, progesterone and testosterone. Knowing that, you’d assume that hormone replacement therapy could ease the discomfort. It turns out you could be right – or wrong. “Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) can help reduce the frequency and severity of Migraines, make them worse, or make no difference at all,” John Claude Krusz and Teri Robert said in a HealthCentral’s migraine sharepost. “It varies widely from one person to the next. There is no one answer, no one HTR medication that's best for everyone.” They encourage menopausal women who are having migraines to find a migraine specialist who will work with the OB/GYN to come up with a treatment plan.

  • So are there other treatments you can talk about with your healthcare provider? According to The Migraine Trust, there are three levels of treatment to consider. The first is preventative treatment in order to stop migraines from happening.  These medications are prescribed after a person makes an effort to identify trigger factors and make appropriate changes to avoid them. The second type of treatment includes stronger pain killers and medications that can stop migraines, known as prescription-only medicines. The third group is called rescue medications, which are prescribed when other medications do not provide enough relief during a migraine.

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    So if you’re going through the menopausal transition and suffer from migraines, I’d encourage you to take two steps. The first, obviously, is to talk with your health care provider. The second step is to read the informative information provided on HealthCentral’s migraine site. Both can provide you with a lot of relief and support.


    Primary Sources for This Sharepost:

    Krusz, J.C., & Robert, T. (2008). Roles of hormones in causing Migraines? HealthCentral.com’s Migraine Site.

    Robert, T. (ND.) Ignoring headaches and migraines can spell danger. HealthCentral.com’s Migraine site.


    The Migraine Trust. (ND.) Menopause, Midlife and Migraines.

    The Migraine Trust. (ND.) Treatment.

    The Migraine Trust. (ND.) Your triggers.

Published On: January 26, 2014