If you battle the menstrual migraine monster, you’re definitely not alone. In fact, according to a paper released just last year, “Menstrually related migraine (MRM) affects about 20% of female migraineurs in the general population.” In other words: menstrual migraines are no joke.
While there’s still quite a bit of research underway, doctors have been able to pinpoint some of the causes and, consequently, some treatments. We spoke to Dr. Linda Girgis and Dr. Curtis Glade to get the run down.
While it’s not always the case, menstrual migraines often occur about two to three days before your period starts (PMS). Once your period actually starts, you’ll usually experience relief, especially several days into menses, says Dr. Glade.
The timing, of course, varies depending on the individual. You may also experience headaches during ovulation, which is about a week before PMS and two weeks before menses.
“Most believe [menstrual migraines are] due to hormone changes during the monthly cycle,” explains Dr. Glade. “Many blame the normal premenstrual drop in estrogen for headaches related to the menstrual cycle, and others blame changes in both estrogen and progesterone.”
There are a couple ways you can both prevent and treat menstrual migraines. For starters, over-the-counter pain relievers -- such as acetaminophen and aspirin -- taken during the timeframe you typically experience headaches can prevent them from even happening.
Dr. Girgis says that other medication options are “anti-depressants, anti-convulsants, calcium channel blockers, magnesium, and beta-blockers.”
Additionally, since birth control pills regulate hormones, they can also bring relief where menstrual migraines are concerned. However, some women find that birth control pills actually make their headaches worse (they may even be causing your migraines).
All the medications listed above have proven effective for many, but it’s always best to speak to your doctor about a regimen before self-prescribing or halting medication.
Outside of medicine, another prevention tip is to adjust your diet, especially during PMS.
“For some women, the hormone changes related to menses result in water retention and weight gain cause the headaches,” explains Dr. Curtis. “Dietary considerations with low-salt foods and no added salt help some.”
Other things that help: regular exercise, adequate sleep and healthful living. Also, Dr. Girgis says “it is often helpful to lie down in a dark rooms since light can worsen symptoms,” and that “loud noises should also be avoided” when you have a migraine.
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The Bottom Line
“The key to treating migraines is taking action immediately when you feel the first signs of migraine,” says Dr. Girgis. That means lying down and taking a pain reliever ASAP. “Often, when it is full-blown, the medications are not as effective.”
If a migraine is extremely painful, or if you can’t get your migraines under control, visit your doctor.