Does it seem like you always get migraines right around your period? You’re not imagining that the two are linked. About 60 percent of women with migraine get a type of headache called menstrual migraines.
Some types of birth control pills can also play a role. Three weeks out of every month, they keep the hormones in your body steady. When you take placebo pills or no pills at all, during the week of your period, your estrogen levels plummet and your head can pound.
If you’re prone to menstrual migraines, taking birth control that contains low amounts of estrogen or only progesterone may help.
Hormone replacement therapy, a type of medicine women take during menopause to control their hormones, can also set off menstrual migraines.
A nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) like ibuprofen or naproxen is sometimes all you need to treat a menstrual migraine. You can buy these over the counter, or your doctor can prescribe a stronger version. Along with your migraine symptoms, these drugs can also relieve period cramps.
Your doctor may suggest that you take both an NSAID and a triptan to get relief.
If your period comes every month like clockwork, you can start these drugs a few days before your bleeding starts and continue for up to a week. If your period doesn’t always stick to a schedule, your doctor may suggest you try a drug that will prevent a headache from happening in the first place.
A new handheld device called gammaCore is a noninvasive vagus nerve stimulator which can be placed on the neck to bring relief from migraine pain.
Some birth control methods like pills, patches, and vaginal rings may help lower the number of menstrual migraines you have or make them less severe. But they don’t work for everyone. In some cases, they could make your migraines worse.
Your doctor might tell you to stay on birth control for 3 to 6 months without taking any placebo pills. This will prevent you from having a period and may stop your headaches.
If you get migraines with auras, using birth control that contains estrogen and progesterone isn’t a safe option. Taking it could make you more likely to have a stroke. Other reasons your doctor may not want you to take birth control for your menstrual migraines:
The drugs used most often to treat menstrual migraines can also help prevent them. These include NSAIDs and triptans, such as:
- Almotriptan (Axert )
- Eletriptan (Relpax)
- Frovatriptan (Frova)
- Naratriptan (Amerge)
- Rizatriptan (Maxalt)
- Sumatriptan (Imitrex)
- Sumatriptan/naproxen Sodium (Treximet)
- Zolmitriptan (Zomig)
If you don’t respond to other treatments and you have 4 or more migraine days a month, your doctor may suggest preventive medicines. You can take these regularly to reduce the severity or frequency of the headaches. These could include seizure medicines, blood pressure medicines (like beta blockers and calcium channel blockers), and some antidepressants.
CGRP inhibitors are a new class of preventive medicine that your doctor may recommend if other medicines don’t help.
In addition, there are two devices which could brief relief. A small headband device called Celafy has found to be helpful in preventing migraines in some people. It sends electrical pulses through the forehead to stimulate a nerve linked with migraines. SpringTMS or eNeura sTMS is a magnet that can be placed on the back of your head and a split-second pulse interrupts abnormal electrical activity caused by migraine, thus aborts the migraine.
Alternative therapies could also give you some relief, although it’s key that you check with your doctor before you try one. Magnesium supplements help some women with menstrual migraines. Acupuncture, relaxation exercises, and biofeedback therapy may be useful, too.
Eating too many salty foods could also lead to headaches. It’s wise to limit the amount of salt you eat around the time of your period. Taking “water pills” (your doctor might call them diuretics) might help.
If nothing else works, your doctor may prescribe a drug called leuprolide acetate (Eligard, Lupron Depot). It drops the estrogen levels in your body, but it does have side effects. Because of this, it’s often thought of as a last resort.
If you still get headaches, don’t take any drugs. Many migraine medicines are bad for your baby. An over-the-counter pain reliever like acetaminophen is generally believed safe, but check with your doctor before you take it.
In the years before menopause, estrogen levels go on a rollercoaster ride. Many women see their headaches get worse during this time.
Once you stop having periods for good, your migraines will likely stop as well. If you’re on estrogen replacement therapy and your headaches get worse, your doctor may lower the dose, advise you to stop taking it, or change to a different type.
An estrogen patch is often the best option. It keeps your estrogen level steady, so a menstrual migraine is less likely to happen.