How to Cope with PMS-Related Migraines
Menstruation is a top-five headache trigger, according to a University of Alabama study, and women are three times more likely to have migraines and men, based on monthly hormone fluctuations, with most sufferers between the ages of 20 and 50, according to the American Migraine Prevalence Study, the largest migraine study to date. With symptoms including throbbing pain (often on one side of the head), sensitivity to light, smells and sounds, and nausea, migraines can compound cramps, cravings, mood swings and overall discomfort each month. The hormones estrogen and progesterone, which help regulate your menstrual cycle, can affect the chemicals in your brain that play a role in migraines. Lower estrogen levels, which precede your period each month, can increase the potency of a headache.
How can you keep migraines from becoming that monthly pain above the neck?
• Note your triggers. While migraines can be triggered by dropping estrogen levels, many people are also sensitive to foods (aged cheese, chocolate, MSG, aspartame) and red wine, as well as over- and under-sleeping, missing meals, stress and changes in weather, so if you find yourself eating certain foods at certain times of month or not getting enough sleep, lifestyle changes can help.
• Stay ahead of your headache. When taken five days to a week before your period, both ibuprofen and naproxen (such as Aleve) can help prevent menstrual migraines.
• Consider the Pill. When taken consecutively for several months, certain birth control pills (those that offer the same amount of hormones in each pill) can prevent the decline in estrogen which may be setting off your migraines.
• Cool off. Apply an ice pack to your head, neck or anywhere else that hurts to reduce inflammation.
• Stave off stress. If you notice that your migraines increase when you’re feeling stressed or overwhelmed, try to fit in time for regular rest and relaxation, particularly around your period. Massage can also help release tight muscles.
• Specific migraine medications. Triptans, for example, are designed to impede migraines by reduce inflammation of blood vessels in the brain that might cause headaches and preventing the transmission of pain signals to the brain.
Other potential balms for migraines include Botox, magnesium and Vitamin B12 before headaches start, and rest in a dark, quiet room. Talk to your doctor if you have more than one headache per week or if migraines are making your cycle more challenging each month.
The one bit of good news about migraines? They typically subside after menopause, so if yours are related to your cycle, they will likely want in time.