Headaches are the worst, especially when they seem to strike out of nowhere and last for hours. A throbbing headache can make it hard to work, concentrate, exercise, engage in hobbies, complete fairly simple tasks, and spend time with the ones you love. While headaches can have many causes, a big one people sometimes don’t know about is hormones.
You may already know that estrogen is a hormone that plays a large role in the female reproductive system. Interestingly, changing estrogen levels can set off headaches—this is particularly common when estrogen levels drop. Estrogen levels can change for many reasons, including pregnancy, varying phases of your menstrual cycle, menopause, lactation, hysterectomy, and when you’re taking oral contraceptives. In any of these situations, a hormonal headache can occur.
Treating Hormonal Headaches
Doctors use a number of different treatments to address headaches that are caused by changing hormone levels. If your headaches are related to your menstrual cycle, your doctor may prescribe medication that can stop your menstrual cycle or reduce your pain, or they may suggest you take oral contraceptives in attempt to reduce the severity or frequency of your headaches (though sometimes oral contraceptives can contribute to hormonal headaches or make them worse). Some commonly prescribed medications and supplements include:
- Triptans: Often used to treat migraines, triptans calm overactive pain nerves and block pain signals in the brain. They don’t prevent headaches but can be used to address pain fairly quickly when headaches arise.
- Pain relievers (NSAIDS): Ibuprofen and other over-the-counter pain medications relieve pain for many who are suffering from headaches.
- NSAID / Triptan combination medications: These combine non-steroidal anti-inflammatories and triptans into one medication and are often prescribed for women who experience menstrual-related migraines.
- Magnesium supplements: Some women find relief from menstrual headaches by taking magnesium supplements from the 15th day of their cycle until menstruation begins.
Medication and supplements aren’t your only option for treating hormone-related headaches. Other methods include biofeedback therapy, relaxation and breathing exercises, ice packs on your head or neck, massage, and acupuncture. Lifestyle changes can also be helpful. This would include limiting alcohol and caffeine consumption, minimizing stress, increasing hydration so you’re drinking at least 1.5 to 2 liters of water each day, and getting a healthy amount of sleep and rest each day.
If you would like to meet with a knowledgeable doctor, consider contacting Arizona OB/GYN Affiliates (AOA) at 602-343-6174 or visit www.aoafamily.com. We have offices in Phoenix, Ahwatukee, Casa Grande, Goodyear, Scottsdale, Gilbert, and Chandler.