Understanding menstrual migraines and period headaches: Causes, symptoms and natural remedies

Understanding menstrual migraines and period headaches: Causes, symptoms and natural remedies
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Are you one of the many women who dread that time of the month not just because of cramps and mood swings, but also because of those throbbing headaches that seem to come out of nowhere?

You're not alone! Menstrual migraines and period headaches are common among women during their menstrual cycle, but there's more to them than meets the eye.

What is menstrual migraine

A menstrual migraine is a specific type of migraine that occurs in relation to a woman's menstrual cycle. It typically happens in the days leading up to or during menstruation.

Menstrual migraines are often more severe and last longer than typical migraines, making them a particularly unwelcome visitor during your period.

Is menstrual migraine normal?

Yes, menstrual migraines are considered normal in the sense that they are not uncommon among menstruating women. Research suggests that up to 60 per cent of women who experience migraines also report having menstrual migraines.

However, it's important to remember that while they are common, they should not be considered a normal part of the menstrual cycle. They can significantly impact a woman's quality of life, making it essential to address them effectively.

Who's at risk of getting menstrual migraines

While any menstruating woman can potentially experience menstrual migraines, some factors may increase your risk:

  1. Hormonal fluctuations: Hormonal changes that occur during the menstrual cycle play a significant role. Women who are sensitive to these hormonal shifts may be more prone to menstrual migraines.
  2. Family history: If you have a family history of migraines, especially those triggered by hormonal changes, you are at a higher risk.
  3. Age: Menstrual migraines often start in the late teens or early twenties and become less frequent after menopause.
  4. Other migraine triggers: If you have other migraine triggers such as stress, certain foods, or sleep disturbances, they can interact with hormonal changes and increase the likelihood of menstrual migraines.

Menstrual migraine symptoms

Menstrual migraines share common symptoms with regular migraines, but are distinguished by their timing in relation to your menstrual cycle. Symptoms can include:

  1. Intense headache: A severe, throbbing headache that can last from a few hours to a few days.
  2. Nausea and vomiting: Many women with menstrual migraines experience nausea and sometimes vomiting.
  3. Sensitivity to light and sound: Like typical migraines, sensitivity to light (photophobia) and sound (phonophobia) can be present.
  4. Aura: Some women may experience visual disturbances or an aura before the headache starts.
  5. Pain on one side of the head: While not always the case, menstrual migraines often affect one side of the head.
  6. Worsening with physical activity: The headache can worsen with routine physical activity.

Why are menstrual migraines so bad?

Menstrual migraines tend to be more severe than regular migraines due to the hormonal fluctuations that accompany the menstrual cycle. The drop in estrogen levels before and during menstruation can trigger more intense headaches. Additionally, menstrual migraines often last longer than typical migraines, further intensifying the discomfort.

How do you get rid of menstrual migraines

How do you stop period migraines naturally?

Natural methods to stop or reduce period migraines include dietary adjustments, stress management, sleep hygiene, and herbal remedies. Additionally, maintaining a migraine diary can help identify triggers specific to your situation. Identifying and avoiding these triggers can significantly reduce the frequency and severity of menstrual migraines.

If natural remedies don't provide sufficient relief, consider over-the-counter pain relievers like ibuprofen or aspirin. In more severe cases, your healthcare provider may prescribe medications specifically designed to prevent or treat menstrual migraines. These may include triptans, hormonal contraceptives, or preventive medications.

When to seek medical help for menstrual migraines

While natural remedies can be effective for many, it's essential to consult a healthcare provider if:

  • Your menstrual migraines are becoming more frequent or severe.
  • They significantly impact your daily life.
  • Over-the-counter medications are not providing relief.
  • You experience neurological symptoms like visual disturbances, confusion, or slurred speech.

Remember, menstrual migraines are treatable, and there are various options available to help you manage them effectively.

Period headache vs menstrual migraine - what's the difference

Period headaches and menstrual migraines are both types of headaches that occur in relation to a woman's menstrual cycle, but they differ in intensity and duration.

Period headaches are typically milder and shorter-lasting headaches that can be triggered by hormonal changes, dehydration, or stress during menstruation.

On the other hand, menstrual migraines are more severe, throbbing headaches that are closely tied to hormonal fluctuations, often occurring in the days leading up to or during menstruation. They come with additional symptoms such as nausea, sensitivity to light and sound, and sometimes visual disturbances.

Understanding the distinction between the two can help women seek appropriate management and relief.

What causes headaches during periods

While menstrual migraines are primarily linked to hormonal fluctuations, several factors can contribute to headaches during your period:

  1. Hormonal changes: Fluctuations in estrogen and progesterone levels can trigger menstrual migraines.
  2. Serotonin levels: Changes in serotonin levels, a neurotransmitter involved in pain regulation, may play a role in menstrual migraines.
  3. Blood vessel changes: Hormonal shifts can affect blood vessels in the brain, leading to headaches.
  4. Stress: Stress can exacerbate hormonal fluctuations and trigger headaches.
  5. Dietary factors: Certain foods and drinks, such as caffeine, alcohol, and chocolate, can act as migraine triggers for some women.
  6. Sleep disturbances: Irregular sleep patterns or inadequate sleep can make you more susceptible to headaches.

What does a period headache feel like

A period headache feels much like a regular migraine but is typically more intense. You may experience:

  • A pulsating or throbbing sensation on one side of your head.
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Sensitivity to light and sound
  • Visual disturbances or aura (in some cases)

The pain can be debilitating, making it challenging to carry out your daily activities.

Where is a period headache located?

A period headache is usually localised on one side of the head, often around the temple area or behind one eye. However, it can spread to other parts of the head and neck.

How do you get rid of a period headache

Now that we've covered the basics, let's discuss how to ease the pain of menstrual migraines and period headaches naturally:

  1. Stay hydrated: Dehydration can exacerbate headaches, so make sure to drink plenty of water throughout your menstrual cycle.
  2. Dietary adjustments: Avoid known migraine triggers like caffeine, alcohol, and processed foods. Opt for a balanced diet rich in whole foods.
  3. Regular meals: Skipping meals can lead to low blood sugar, which can trigger headaches. Eat regular, balanced meals.
  4. Manage stress: Practice stress-reduction techniques such as meditation, yoga, or deep breathing exercises to help manage hormonal fluctuations.
  5. Adequate sleep: Maintain a consistent sleep schedule and aim for seven to nine hours of quality sleep each night.
  6. Physical activity: Regular exercise can help regulate hormonal fluctuations and reduce the frequency and severity of migraines.
  7. Cold compress: Apply a cold compress to your forehead or neck to help alleviate pain.
  8. Aromatherapy: Some people find relief from headaches through aromatherapy with essential oils like lavender or peppermint.
  9. Acupressure: Gentle pressure on specific acupressure points may provide relief.
  10. Herbal remedies: Some herbs, such as feverfew and butterbur, have been studied for their potential in reducing migraine frequency and severity.

It's important to note that what works for one person may not work for another. Experiment with these natural remedies to discover what provides the most relief for you.

When to go to the doctor

While period headaches are common and often manageable with self-care, it's crucial to consult a healthcare professional if you experience certain warning signs. Seek medical attention if your period headaches:

  1. Increase in intensity or frequency
  2. Are accompanied by neurological symptoms like visual disturbances, slurred speech, or confusion
  3. Persist despite over-the-counter pain relievers and natural remedies
  4. Interfere significantly with your daily life

These signs may indicate an underlying medical condition that requires evaluation and appropriate treatment.

ALSO READ: Pain during ovulation: Why does it happen and does it mean anything?

This article was first published in theAsianparent.

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