Migraine occurs approximately three times more often in women than in men, and research has determined that menstrual hormone changes are one of many potential triggers.
Menstruation is one of the main factors that places women at risk for migraine. Although migraine headaches are equally common in young girls and boys, the number of girls affected increases sharply after the onset of menstruation. About 60% of female migraine sufferers experience menstrual migraine that occurs before, during, or immediately after the period or during ovulation.
Estrogen, the female sex hormone that specifically regulates the menstrual cycle, generally causes menstrual migraine. Changes in the hormone levels of estrogen and progesterone during the menstrual cycle can trigger migraine in sufferers. Women on birth control pills may experience menstrual migraines more frequently because of the influence that oral contraceptives have on estrogen levels.
Women may also experience headaches during Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS) prior to their menstrual cycle. The symptoms of PMS headache include head pain accompanied by fatigue, acne, joint pain, decreased urination, constipation and lack of coordination. A woman may also experience an increase in appetite and a craving for chocolate, salt, or alcohol. PMS headache symptoms differ from the menstrual migraine: menstrual migraine sufferers experience symptoms similar to a migraine without aura, although for some, an aura may precede the menstrual migraine. The headache pain begins as a one-sided, throbbing headache accompanied by nausea, vomiting, or sensitivity to bright lights and sounds.
The National Headache Foundation suggests that a woman talk to her healthcare provider about available treatments including acute treatment, preventive treatment, and/or hormonal therapy to aid in relief for menstrual migraine sufferers. In general, menstrually related migraine can be treated with similar strategies to those used for a non-menstrual migraine.