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Understanding Menstrual Migraines

Women are three times as likely as men to suffer from migraine headaches and they can be tricky to treat. A migraine will usually begin with a gradual increase in pain that gets worse over a few minutes to a couple of hours. Migraines are often felt on one side of the head only and can be accompanied by nausea and vomiting. Some people will experience an aura that starts before the pain begins. The aura can include flashing lights, a break-up of vision, zigzag lines, or a tingling in fingers, lips, the tongue or the face. These symptoms may bring on changes in speech as well. While these symptoms can be alarming, they usually last for less than an hour and have no lasting ill effects. In many people migraines will last just a few hours, although in some cases they can last two to three days.

There are a host of triggers that can bring on a migraine, including stress, fatigue, hunger, head trauma, exposure to certain foods or drink, pregnancy and menstrual periods.

Menstrual migraines usually occur in the days leading up to the start of a woman’s period and are brought on by the normal decrease in estrogen that occurs in that time. They tend to be more severe and longer lasting than other migraines, and can be harder to treat. Generally, women will not experience an aura with onset of a menstrual migraine, even if they are prone to getting them with migraines they’ve had in the past.

Estrogen can have a variable effect on the severity of a woman’s migraine. Some women who take birth control pills or are pregnant will experience less frequent or severe symptoms, while in others, taking the pill or being pregnant will have the opposite effect.

Menstrual Migraines

Prevention and Treatment

If you are experiencing migraines, your AOA doctor will recommend that you begin keeping a headache diary to help pinpoint the triggers. The pain of a migraine can be difficult to get rid of and treatment works best if you take it at the first sign of an attack. Sometimes a simple pain reliever, such as aspirin or Tylenol will help. In some cases you may need a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug such as Motrin or Aleve, however, it is important not to overuse this kind of medication. Use it if it works, but do not take it more than once or twice a week. Many migraine sufferers get some measure of relief by lying down in a darkened, quiet room with a cold compress. Your AOA doctor can help you determine the best course of action to take.

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