PMS, period hormones, and all the side effects that come with them are no joke. People who menstruate can have periods that bring physical and mental health distress: cramping, back pain, nausea, worsening depression, etc. A lot of these symptoms ease up throughout a person’s cycle (and if they don’t, you could have an underlying condition).
But if “that time of the month” means that you experience a splitting migraine, you could be in need of additional treatment for hormonal headaches. Today, we look at 3 possible treatment options for hormonal headaches so that you can learn what works for you—and what the next steps are if all else fails.
What Are Hormonal Headaches?
Hormonal headaches or hormonal migraines describe the intense head pain that is triggered by the release of certain hormones in the body. This is one of the types of headaches that primarily impacts women or those who get their periods. In fact, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services states that the majority of people who have migraines are women.
One of the reasons behind this fact is because of the related hormones that cause ovulation and menstruation. Specifically, changes in one’s estrogen and progesterone levels can cause hormone headaches, particularly if these levels drop too low.
Hormonal headaches can happen at any time before, during, or after somebody gets their period. Most commonly, people get migraine headaches before the period actually begins. Medical experts believe that this is because of the sudden decrease in estrogen levels. They drop to communicate with all the other hormones in order to indicate to the body when it’s time to shed the uterine lining. But the theory is that this can trigger a migraine attack as well as increase sensitivity to pain.
Hormonal headaches can come with other side effects as well. These include:
- Blurred vision
- Difficulty sleeping
- Trouble concentrating
Some people find that hormonal headaches occur more frequently and more severely in the perimenopausal and menopausal stages of life in which the body slowly stops menstruating. Other people find that the headaches get better during pregnancy because estrogen levels rise.
Whatever stage of life you are in, if you are having hormonal headaches, you know that they can be a major disruption to one’s everyday life. This is why finding the right treatment options for menstrual migraines can make a huge difference. With that, here are 3 possible treatment options that might help alleviate your headaches throughout each month.
1. Oral Contraceptives and Hormonal Headaches
Oral contraceptives, otherwise known as birth control pills, can prevent hormone levels from dropping to the point where they trigger a hormonal migraine. There are different types of birth control pills, but they typically come in a pack of 28. It’s important to take your birth control exactly as prescribed, usually having one pill at the same time each day.
There are two types of birth control packets that can help with hormonal headaches. These are:
- Combination pills—Each pill contains a mixture of estrogen and progestin, except for the placebo pills, which don’t contain hormones but keep you in the habit of taking a pill each day. These are important in managing hormonal headaches because they control the levels of estrogen that your body releases. In turn, your period symptoms should become less severe.
- Progestin-only pills—This type of birth control contains progestin only, which is best for people who experience negative side effects from estrogen. These do not guarantee prevention of ovulation, but they do work to even out how much progestin the body produces without changing estrogen levels.
Another option in a similar vein is hormone replacement therapy (HRT). HRT does not prevent ovulation and therefore does not work as an oral contraceptive, but the idea behind HRT is similar to birth control because this treatment works to change the hormone levels the body naturally produces. HRT is usually most effective for people who are going through or have already completed menopause.
It’s important to recognize that birth control pills and HRT come with their own side effects, including headaches. Always talk with your doctor to balance the pros and cons before deciding which treatment is right for you.
2. Migraine Medication
When hormonal headaches strike, you might not have the time to wait for birth control pills to regulate your hormones—you might need relief more immediately. This is where migraine medication can be useful. This medication could be over-the-counter or prescribed.
Over-the-counter medicine can sometimes take the edge off of headaches, especially if you take the medication when you feel the headache coming on rather than waiting for it to completely manifest. Prescription migraine medication is usually stronger and able to target the specific pain you are experiencing. However, there are always risks associated with taking medication. Be sure to monitor any new or worsening symptoms any time you begin a new medication, even if it’s just over-the-counter.
3. Preventative Treatment for Hormonal Headaches
Of course, the least painful option and the most effective would be to prevent migraines from happening in general. This isn’t always easy with hormonal headaches, though, because of the way the body naturally releases hormones. However, certain preventative treatments, in conjunction with one or more of the options above, can help to keep away migraines—or at least lessen their intensity.
A few steps to take for preventative treatment would be:
- Eating well
- Staying hydrated
- Reducing stress levels
- Getting enough sleep
- Back stretches
- Decreasing neck pain
When it comes to eating well, this doesn’t mean dieting. Rather, this is about avoiding certain foods that might trigger a menstrual migraine attack and eating foods that are rich with anti-inflammatory properties. Pair this with hydration and you will be on your way to preventing other types of headaches that could make your experience with hormonal headaches even worse.
Reducing stress is easier said than done, but you might consider trying cognitive behavioral therapy. You could also join the Pain Resource Community to have a supportive space to vent, ask for advice, and connect with others who understand what you’re going through.
Lastly, taking care of yourself with good sleep hygiene habits, gentle stretches and exercise, and pain management techniques for any co-occurring chronic conditions is key to preventing headaches.
The Next Steps in Treating Hormonal Headaches
It’s important that you talk to your doctor before trying any of the above treatment options or before exploring treatments recommended by others who have experience with hormonal headaches. All in all, these treatment options are meant to improve your quality of life. Whichever path you choose to manage your hormonal headaches—medication, preventative measures, or even lifestyle changes—your future holds a clearer head and less pain.
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