If you’re approaching menopause and noticing an increasing number of migraine headaches, don’t worry: It’s just another fun symptom of that inevitable midlife change.
A new study released last month from researchers at the University of Cincinnati, the Montefiore Headache Center, the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, and Vedanta Research found that, among women who experienced migraine headaches previously, the risk of having more than 10 days of a headache per month jumped by 60 percent in middle-aged women during the perimenopause period “the transition into menopause marked by irregular or erratic menstrual cycles ” compared to normally menstruating women.
“This has been known for a while,” he said. “It’s thought to be related to hormonal changes.”
Webb said that, as children, girls and boys are at the same level of risk for migraine headaches. Once girls hit menstruation, however, their risk of developing migraines increases significantly, by three times, compared to boys.
“Women tend to have a higher frequency of migraines during the few days leading up to and the first few days of their cycle,” Webb said. “It usually correlates to fluctuating estrogen levels.”
When women are experiencing irregular cycles leading up to menopause, their hormone levels are fluctuating again, which explains the increase in migraines during perimenopause, he said.
There is some good news, though: Once women reach menopause ” defined as one full year without menstruation “hormone levels even out, and the migraine frequency for many women decreases.
“Not everyone’s body follows the textbook, of course,” Webb said, “but a lot of women do improve once they hit menopause.”
Another issue causing problems for women in perimenopause, Webb said, is the extra aches and pains they’re treating, which could be compounding their headache concerns.
Women in their 50s tend to have chronic pains or arthritis issues they’re dealing with, he said, and which they’re treating with over-the-counter analgesics, such as Tylenol, along with whatever prescriptions their provider gives them. If they take more than 20 of those collectively per month, however, they might start experiencing analgesic rebound headaches, which are dull headaches common among perimenopause patients.
Also, although hormonal therapies, which could help level out changes, are available to women during perimenopause, Webb said more research is necessary before women should necessarily elect that path.
“Hormonal options might have a play sometime in the future, but for now the increased risk of heart attack and stroke they carry could outweigh the benefit of such a treatment,” he said.