Menopausal and peri-menopausal women experience more frequent migraine attacks than women who have not yet entered that phase of life, researchers have found.

“Ours is the first study to demonstrate that the frequency of migraine attacks increases during the menopausal transition,” said Vincent T. Martin, MD, Co-Direct of the University of Cincinnati Headache and Facial Pain Program and Professor  of  Medicine at the University of Cincinnati.

The authors noted that many women have experienced this problem for years in their own lives, but now there are scientific findings behind it.

The  research  was part  of  the  American  Migraine  Prevalence and  Prevention  (AMPP)  Study, which the National Headache Foundation conducted in 2006. It is the largest study of migraine sufferers ever completed and included more than 160,000 Americans, age 12 and older.

For this study, researchers reviewed data on more than 3,600 women age 35 to 65.  They found that frequent migraine (10  or more  days  per  month) was 50 to 60% more common among perimenopausal  and  menopausal  women compared  with  the premenopausal  group.

Richard B. Lipton, MD, Professor of Neurology and Director of the Montefiore Headache Center at the Albert  Einstein College of Medicine, noted that because  migraines  tend  to be worse during menstruation, it  may  seem unlikely  that as periods became irregular or absent during perimenopause and menopause that headache would become  more  frequent. He pointed to estrogen as the cause.

“We believe that both declining estrogen levels that occur at the time of menstruation as well as low estrogen levels that are encountered during the menopause are triggers of migraine in some women,” Lipton said.

The authors noted they hope the findings from this study lead to improved migraine treatment for this phase in women’s lives. They also indicated that an increase in headache at this time of life may prompt healthcare professionals and patients to discuss using hormone replacement therapy for a short period of time.

Because this information has not yet been published, it should be considered preliminary. It was presented at the annual meeting of the American Headache Society in Los Angeles in June.