Migraines, Headaches, Perimenopause and Menopause

by WV Marshall

Migraine attacks worsen by as much as 50 to 60 percent in the years leading up to and during menopause.

Migraines versus Headaches

Migraines must be differentiated from headaches.

Headaches are characterized by a mild to severe “squeezing” sensation in the temples or forehead.

Although they are more common and easier to manage than migraines, they can nevertheless have a significant impact on quality of life, especially if they occur regularly.

Migraines are more intense, persist longer, and include light, sound, and nausea sensitivity and can be debilitating.

Migraines, Headaches and Hormones

Both migraines and headaches may be connected to the menstrual cycle throughout our lives.

The perimenopausal period occurs when the body is in the process of transitioning to menopause, or when monthly periods stop.

Perimenopause can endure for years and is characterized by irregular periods, hot flashes, and sleep disturbances.

Who Gets Migraines

Migraines affect both men and women, however they are more common in women, with a lifetime frequency of 43 percent in women and 18 percent in men.

There is considerable evidence that migraines are linked to a woman’s hormonal status, and that hormone-related events influence both the timing and frequency of migraine attacks.

What Affects Migraines

The hormonal condition of women during menarche, menstruation, pregnancy, and menopause, as well as the use of oral contraceptives and hormone replacement therapy, may influence migraine occurrence.

In the three months leading up to their visit to a menopausal clinic, 57 percent of women had headaches and 29 percent reported migraines.

Also in that study, 80 percent of women reported attacks more than once a month, 75 percent reported severe attacks, and 50 percent reported episodes lasting more than one day.

In a cross-sectional survey of 1,436 menopausal women aged 40–54 years, 69 percent said they had had at least one headache in the previous year, and 16.5 percent were diagnosed as a migraine by the International Headache Society.

The link between migraines and menopausal symptoms such as

  • mood swings,
  • poor sleep,
  • irritability, and
  • concentration problems

is unclear due to inconsistent findings.

Spontaneous Menopause versus Surgical Menopause

Menopause, whether natural or artificial, has a significant impact on migraines.

The likelihood of migraines has been reported to be as high as 50 percent to 60 percent in spontaneous menopause, albeit there is a lot of variation between studies.

In a significant number of women, surgically induced menopause (ie, oophorectomy with or without hysterectomy) appears to be linked to migraine worsening.

However, the figures differ significantly between studies.

Even if the ovaries are retained or postsurgical estrogen treatment is used, migraines can intensify.

The cause of the deterioration is unknown, however it could be connected to the substantial, rapid change in hormones.

Other Causes of Migraines

Hormonal changes aren’t the only reason for migraines or headaches.

Other culprits include:

  • Stress
  • Muscular tension
  • Jaw issues
  • Eyesight issues
  • Nervous system disorders
  • Ear, nose, and throat disorders
  • Arthritis
  • Medication side effects
  • High blood pressure
  • Dehydration
  • Physical strain
  • Allergies

During menopause, the number of high-frequency headaches also increased, by as much as seventy-six percent.

However, researchers believe it is more likely that it is the result of pharmaceutical misuse than hormonal fluctuations, which is frequent around this time.

As women age, they experience a variety of aches and pains, as well as joint and back discomfort, and it’s possible that excessive use of pain pills for headaches and other ailments contributes to an increase in headaches in the menopause group.

If you’re experiencing migraines or headaches, see your healthcare provider.

mySysters is an app for women in perimenopause and menopause. Good Housekeeping and Woman’s Day named mySysters the Best App for Women in Perimenopause and a Must Have App for Women.

Sources: American Migraine Foundation

Migraine in menopausal women: a systematic review Int J Womens Health. 2015; 7: 773–782.