You’ve endured painful headaches in your menstruating years. Now that you’re moving into perimenopause and menopause, you can’t wait to get rid of them. Except that you may be in a class of women whose headaches persist into this period, particularly if you’re prone to migraines.
It’s all in your hormones
What sets the classic menopausal headache apart from other varieties is the relationship between hormonal levels, your menstrual cycle and the life-cycle change brought about by menopause.
As women reach perimenopause—the transition period just before menopause when their periods end—hormone levels can fluctuate greatly. This period, which usually starts in a woman’s 40s, can last for several years. It’s characterized by hot flashes, sleeping problems and irregular periods.
Estrogen and progesterone can affect chemicals in the brain that trigger headaches. Before you reach menopause, hormone levels in your body sharply decline when you’re just a few days from your menstrual cycle. That drop sometimes can spark those unwelcome headaches. Taking oral contraceptives can cause them as well.
It’s quite likely your headaches will greatly lessen or disappear altogether when you enter menopause as hormone levels stabilize and drop to much lower levels. This is true for as many as two-thirds of women.
But for the rest, it’s not that simple. If you have a history of chronic headaches or migraines just before or during your menstrual cycles, you may experience fluctuating hormone levels. A loss of estrogen may elevate your headache pain.
Headaches are a complex condition with a number of causes. Most folks get tension headaches and experience the usual symptoms of neck, shoulder and scalp tension and tightness. Some have a propensity for migraine headaches, which are more severe. Migraines can be triggered in women by fluctuating hormonal levels.
Menopausal migraine sufferers describe their pain as a throbbing sensation on one side of their head. It also can be followed by nausea, vomiting and sensitivity to light and sound. Some say the attacks are preceded by auras, visual disturbances that include flashing lights or even a temporary loss of vision.
Managing menopausal headaches
Thankfully, there are treatments available to stem the pain. Your provider can either treat headaches before they occur or when they happen.
If you’re nearing menopause and suffer from frequent, unpredictable headaches, you might need to enlist daily treatment, such as:
- Applying ice pack wraps to your head or neck
- Pinpointing headache or migraine triggers, including stress, sleep patterns, and food and drink
- Finding relaxation techniques, such as yoga, massage, acupuncture, biofeedback and meditation
- Taking over-the-counter or prescription medications – your Providence primary care provider can customize an appropriate regime for you
It’s especially critical to follow your provider’s plan. Altering medication schedules on your own may aggravate – not alleviate – your condition.
In the past, women often believed headache pain during menstruation and later in menopause was the price you paid for being a woman. That’s nonsense, of course. If you’re suffering from headache pain due to hormonal changes, you really don’t need to. Get in touch with your Providence primary care provider and work together to formulate a plan to minimize your headache pain.
Do you need a primary care doctor to help manage your headaches? If so, find a provider in your area.