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Women's Health

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Migraines More Common During Menstrual Periods

WebMD Health News

Nov. 27, 2000 -- Researchers have now confirmed what doctors and migraine sufferers alike have long suspected: Women are twice as likely to have migraine headaches during the first two days of their menstrual period than at other times. Surprisingly, however, these migraines were no worse than those occurring later in the menstrual cycle. The study findings are published in the Nov. 28, 2000 issue of the journal Neurology.

"This kind of research is important in clarifying the exact relationship of headaches to the menstrual cycle, [which] may lead to specific [treatments for] menstrually associated headaches," says Carol A.J. Boyle, MD, FRCP(C). Boyle, a neurologist at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon, Canada, reviewed the findings for WebMD.

Migraine headaches are three times more common in women than in men and are usually described as throbbing pain on one side of the head or behind the eye. Migraines are often associated with nausea and vomiting, and sensitivity to light or noise. Some patients experience an aura before the headache begins, with changes in vision or weakness or numbness on one side of the body.

Researchers did phone interviews on more than 4,000 women living in the community, then studied 81 menstruating women with clinically diagnosed migraine. For more than three months, these women completed detailed headache diaries, recording how long their headaches lasted, how severe the pain was, how well they were able to continue their usual activities during the headache, and any associated symptoms.

On the first two days of menstrual flow, the women were more than twice as likely to have both migraine without aura and tension-type headaches. Tension headaches usually involve both sides of the head and back of the neck with steady, burning, or pressure-type pain. In addition, migraine without aura occurred twice as often in the two days before menstrual flow began.

As study subjects were selected from the general population rather than from a headache clinic, the results are more likely to represent patients in general practice, says Boyle.

Still, Boyle says, "Not all menstrually associated headaches in [migraine patients] are migraines." In fact, tension headaches accounted for more than half of all headaches during the study.

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