Other symptoms of menstrual migraines may include:
- Sensitivity to light, sound, and smells
- Disturbances in your field of vision, known as migraine aura
- Dizziness and exhaustion even after pain subsides
What causes period migraines?
A quick biology refresher for people with periods: Though most people only bleed for three to five days, your body goes through the menstrual cycle all month long. The levels of both estrogen and progesterone drop off sharply at the end of each monthly cycle, which signal to your body that it’s time to reset your cycle and begin your period. Dr. Lucky Sekhon, a New York City-based board- certified OB-GYN and fertility specialist, tells Allure that migraines that show up two or three days before your period can be triggered by this steep hormone drop.
If you switched birth control and began to experience menstrual migraines shortly after, that switch may be the culprit. It’s possible that higher doses of estrogen in your birth control pills can mean that the hormone drop before your period stops gets even steeper. “Sometimes, all that is required to improve or prevent migraines is switching to a pill with a lower estrogen content,” says Sekhon.
A 2013 literature review published in the Journal of Headache and Pain suggests that people who have migraines might even want to stick to progestin-only pills, if they are going to use an oral contraceptive. (However, it’s worth noting that the review’s authors concluded that more clinical trials were needed to establish firm contraceptive recommendation guidelines for people who have migraines. Phillips says that some people’s migraines get better when they take hormonal birth control, while other people’s migraines get worse.)
Menstrual migraines may be worse for people who are approaching menopause. (One study noted that the peak prevalence for all migraines happens for women in their late 30s; the average age for starting the menopause transition is between 45 and 55.)
These migraines tend to run in families, but Sekhon says that researchers are still working to understand the genetic components. Since menstrual migraine is not uncommon, it’s statistically likely that one of your immediate family members will have the condition, so a family history doesn’t necessarily give us insight into whether or not you would have the condition. A 2004 study published in the Journal of Neurology found that participants with menstrual migraine were more likely to have two or more relatives who also have migraines when compared to the control group of participants who don’t get menstrual migraines, but the sample size was small.
What are the treatment options for period migraines?
The good news is that there are plenty of treatment options if you’re having period-related migraines. The first line of treatment recommended typically involves things you can try at home. “Always, my first approach is to minimize lifestyle triggers that could be exacerbating the migraines outside of hormones,” says Phillips. She cites avoiding stress (as much as possible), cutting out foods that you already know to trigger your migraines, correcting irregular sleep patterns, and staying away from second-hand smoke as ways you can lower your migraine risk.