Hormonal Headaches: Location and Treatment
Published August 31, 2022.
Hormonal headaches also include premenstrual syndrome (PMS) headaches, occurring about 10 days before menstruation, or menstrual migraines, occurring about two days before the period starts.
This post further discusses the causes of hormonal headaches and when women are likely to be affected. Possible treatments and remedies are also recommended.
What Causes a Hormonal Headache?
Women experience hormonal headaches because of hormones that fluctuate—most especially when estrogen levels drop just before a period. This can be two days before a period starts or over the first three days.
A migraine level headache may be triggered when the brain is stimulated (by bright light, stress, fatigue, or even foods like cheese or chocolate) so much that the blood vessels dilate a lot, setting up pain. This then triggers a rush of serotonin that tries to shut down the blood vessels—almost like squeezing them—and this sudden constriction worsens the pain.
A less aggressive headache, not a migraine, but with severe and persistent pain in the head, can also be caused by hormonal changes.
What Does a Hormonal Headache Feel Like?
Hormonal headaches can feel like a throbbing pulse in the head, or a tight band of pressure gripping the skull across the front or back of the head or on one side only. The pain can also move across to the middle or the other side of the head, as the headache progresses.
Additional menstrual migraine symptoms include sensitivity to light, nausea, fatigue, and dizziness.
Who Do Hormonal Headaches Affect?
Women with different hormonal profiles can experience hormonal headaches at different times:
- Contraceptive pill: Women who have stopped using their birth control pills may experience headaches. Birth control pills affect the menstrual cycle, therefore hormone levels are irregular and must take time to stabilize again.
- Menopause: Women who are experiencing menopause, which is a receding tide of hormones, may have frequent headaches due to the diminishing level of estrogen in their bodies.
- Pregnancy: Women in the first few weeks of pregnancy may also experience hormonal headaches. This is a time of hormonal adjustment as the body produces additional hormones to stabilize the new embryo.
Additionally, women who are already affected by stress, have a genetic tendency to migraines, or perhaps need to take beta-blockers may tend to experience a higher number of migraines per month.
Hormonal Headaches: Treatment and Remedies
Hormonal headaches can be treated in different ways depending on their severity.
- Tryptamine-based drugs (triptans): This medication is longer-acting and can be taken on an ongoing basis.
- Non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDS): NSAIDS can be taken on an ongoing basis for a short time, but their use must be medically managed because they are linked to severe side effects such as stroke, gastrointestinal bleeding, and ulcers.
- Oral contraceptives: Birth control can be used on a continuous basis (without allowing menstruation to occur) and can help keep menstrual migraines away. However, the body does require a break—maybe one month in every five—to bleed. Unfortunately, the hormonal imbalances that now occur because of stopping birth control may also trigger a migraine. This remedy is linked to side effects such as stroke or deep vein thrombosis.
- Beta-blockers: Using this medication daily is useful to reduce the incidence of migraine attacks.
- Self-care remedies: Exercise, such as aerobic exercise and yoga, and taking supplements, such as magnesium, can support and stabilize the migraine sufferer.
A migraine sufferer who experiences migraine attacks frequently and severely should ideally take preventative remedies, such as the points discussed above, because it is difficult to stop a migraine once it has started.
Hormonal headaches should be taken seriously. A severe case can reduce a woman's time for work or play by up to 3 days a week. If unsure or if any symptoms escalate, consult a medical professional for further action.