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Sunday, November 8

Hormones and Migraine Headaches

What is a migraine headache?

A migraine headache is a severe pain felt on one, and sometimes, both sides of the head. The pain is mostly in the front around the temples or behind one eye or ear. Besides pain, you may have nausea and vomiting, and be very sensitive to light and sound. Migraine can occur any time of the day, though it often starts in the morning. The pain can last a few hours or up to one or two days.

We don't know what causes migraine headaches, but some things are more common in people who have them.
  • Most often, migraine affects people between the ages of 15 and 55.
  • Many people have a family history of migraine.
  • They are more common in women.
  • Migraine often becomes less severe and frequent with age.
What causes migraine?

One theory about the cause of migraine is the blood flow theory, which focuses on blood vessel activity in the brain. Blood vessels either narrow or expand. Narrowing can constrict blood flow, causing problems with sight or dizziness. When the blood vessels expand, they press on nerves nearby, which cause pain.

Another theory focuses on chemical changes in the brain. When chemicals in the brain that send messages from one cell to another, including the messages to blood vessels to get narrow or expand, are interrupted, migraines can occur.

More recently, genes have been linked to migraine. People who get migraines may inherit abnormal genes that control the functions of certain brain cells. And something the person's body is sensitive to in some way triggers the actual headaches.

Headache triggers can vary from person to person. Most migraines are not caused by a single factor or event. Your response to triggers can also vary from headache to headache. Many women with migraine tend to have attacks brought on by:
  • lack of food or sleep
  • bright light or loud noise
  • hormone changes during the menstrual cycle
  • stress and anxiety
  • weather changes
  • chocolate, alcohol, or nicotine
  • some foods and food additives, such as MSG or nitrates
Are there different kinds of migraine?

Yes, there are many forms of migraine headache. But, the two forms seen most often are classic and common migraine.

Classic migraine. With a classic migraine, a person has these visual symptoms 10 to 30 minutes before an attack:
  • sees flashing lights or zigzag lines
  • has blind spots or loses vision for a short time
The aura can include seeing or hearing strange things. It can even disturb the senses of smell, taste, or touch. Women have this form of migraine less often than men.
Common migraine. With a common migraine, a person does not have an aura, but does have the other migraine symptoms, such as nausea and vomiting.

Migraines and Hormones

Although boys and girls report migraines in equal numbers before puberty, women have dramatically higher incidence of migraines after they begin menstruating. As many as 75% of migraine sufferers are women, according to, and 60% of those women report that their migraines seem to be triggered by their menstrual cycle.
  • According to the Mayo Clinic, 18% of women have at least one migraine per year, while only 6 to 7% of men do
  • Migraines are most common in women aged 20 to 45
  • Women's migraine headaches are more severe than men's, and are more likely to include other symptoms like nausea and vomiting
  • 60% of women experience migraines in the week before a menstrual period
  • Women are also likely to have headaches when ovulating
  • Pregnant women often report a change in headache patterns – usually fewer migraines during pregnancy and while breast-feeding, although the opposite is sometimes true
How to Prevent Migraine Headaches
  • Water –What this means is that drinking more water throughout the day can be enough to prevent most headaches. It's best to avoid coffee, soft drinks, and other sources of caffeine that can dehydrate.
  • Sleep –Sleep is vital for hormone balance, weight loss, metabolism, stress relief, and equally important for preventing headaches.
  • Exercise – The last thing anyone wants to do during a migraine is exercise, but regular activity can help prevent headaches and migraines by lowering stress levels, boosting endorphins, and supporting cardiovascular health
  • Food – While some foods can actually relieve headaches, it's been found that certain foods act as migraine triggers.
  • Medication – Headaches most often occur in tandem with other issues (such as depression, chronic fatigue syndrome, asthma) that are usually medicated, and many of these drugs have side effects that include headaches. Diet pills, birth control, and blood pressure medication are also suspect.
-Cindy Paiva

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