View All Articles

Menopause Makes Migraines Worse, Study Says

March 12, 2016

More than 2 million American women reach menopause every year.

While symptoms like night sweats and hot flashes are common with menopause, a new study shows that women who already have migraines may experience more severe headaches as they enter menopause.

Migraines & Menopause

The study involved about 3,600 women who experienced migraines before and after menopause. The risk of having 10 or more migraines a month increased by 60 percent during perimenopause, the time in which a woman approaches menopause. The study showed that as women got closer to menopause, their migraines got worse. Not surprisingly, this is also the time when women have the lowest amount of estrogen.

Hormonal changes drive many of the symptoms women experience during menopause, and for years we’ve heard anecdotally from women that their migraines worsen during this change. In our practice, approximately 10 percent of menopausal patients complain of migraines.

Estrogen’s Role in Menopause Symptoms

Menopause occurs when the ovaries stop producing progesterone and estrogen. Estrogen levels begin to change when a woman enters her 30s and 40s, leading to irregular periods and eventually menopause when a woman reaches her 50s (the average age for menopause is 51 years old). Changes in estrogen, in particular, cause many of the symptoms women experience during menopause.

Menopausal migraines have been associated with a drop in estrogen levels. Consequently, we advise patients to undergo continuous hormonal therapy to minimize the fluctuations in estrogen concentration in the blood stream. Hormone therapy delivered via skin patches or gels or via a vaginal ring or topical cream may provide better relief than oral hormone therapy, because these methods provide less fluctuation in the concentration of estrogen. We also tell patients to avoid food triggers like chocolate, caffeine and wine, because these things may worsen menopause symptoms.

Some studies suggest that there is a 50-60 percent increase in the frequency of migraines during a woman’s menopausal years. If you are experiencing severe migraines and have tried other options with no relief, get a referral from your doctor to see a specialist. A specialist, such as a neurologist, can explore other therapies to treat your symptoms. These therapies may include antidepressants, anticonvulsants, calcium channel blockers, beta blockers, NSAIDs or triptans. Triptans have been shown to be effective for the treatment of headaches and migraines, but they also come with an increased risk of stroke and heart issues, so make sure you talk to your doctor about these risks and fully understand them before you decide on treatment.

Migraines affect 12 percent of Americans, but women get migraines more often than the rest of the population. If you are going through menopause and notice that your migraines have gotten worse, seek treatment or ask your doctor to refer you to a specialist, if necessary.