Migraines may worsen during menopause

June 24, 2014 by Kathleen Doheny, Healthday Reporter
Migraines may worsen during menopause
Women in perimenopause, menopause have more migraines than premenopausal women, study finds.

(HealthDay)—New research confirms what women with migraine headaches have told their doctors for years: migraine attacks seem to get worse in the years before and during menopause.

"In who have migraine, increase by 50 to 60 percent when they go through the perimenopause and menopausal time periods," said Dr. Vincent Martin, professor of medicine and co-director of the Headache and Facial Pain Program at the University of Cincinnati.

The new finding, Martin said, "basically confirms what women have been telling us physicians for decades. We finally have some evidence."

The perimenopausal period is the time when the body is transitioning to —when monthly periods end. Perimenopause can last several years, and is often marked by irregular periods, hot flashes and sleep problems. Perimenopause can begin in the 40s, and menopause occurs, on average, at age 51, according to the U.S. National Institute on Aging.

The study is due to be presented on Wednesday at the American Headache Society annual meeting in Los Angeles. Findings presented at meetings are generally considered preliminary until they've been published in a peer-reviewed journal.

Martin and his colleagues surveyed just over 3,600 women, aged 35 to 65, in a mailed questionnaire that asked about their menopausal status and whether they had migraines and, if they did, how often. The women were classified as having high frequency headaches if they had 10 or more headache days a month.

The women in the study were about evenly divided among the three groups: premenopausal, perimenopausal and postmenopausal.

While 8 percent of the premenopausal group had frequent headaches, 12.2 percent of the perimenopausal group did along with 12 percent of the .

At first, the results might seem puzzling, since experts know that younger women often get migraines right before and at the beginning of the menstrual cycle, said study researcher Dr. Richard Lipton, director of the Montefiore Medical Center Headache Center and professor of neurology at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, in New York City.

"Women with migraine are most likely to get them a couple days before bleeding through the first few days of the cycle, when estrogen and progesterone both fall. The idea that women who have fewer periods [during ] would get more migraines seems paradoxical," said Lipton.

However, he said, experts believe decreasing estrogen levels explain the headaches in both cases.

The study provides welcome information on the problem of migraines, according to Dr. Elizabeth Loder, chief of the division of headache and pain in the department of neurology at Brigham & Women's Hospital in Boston.

"I think this study is particularly valuable because they went to the trouble of carefully determining what phase the women were in," she said.

Loder agreed that the study validates what patients have been telling doctors for years. Its size also lends credibility.

However, she said, it's important to put the study in perspective. "Although the relative differences [in headache frequency] between groups look big, the absolute numbers are not," Loder said. She pointed out that 8 percent of premenopausal women and about 12 percent of older women had frequent headaches.

For relief, Martin suggested, women could ask their headache specialist about adjusting or switching their medicine.

The women might also ask about taking hormone replacement therapy for a brief time, he added, reasoning that raising estrogen might help decrease headaches. However, women and their doctors should discuss the benefits and the risks—such as an increased risk of stroke—with hormone use.

Explore further: Head injuries tied to higher migraine risk for veterans

More information: To learn more about migraines, visit the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Related Stories

Does more stress equal more headaches?

February 19, 2014

A new study provides evidence for what many people who experience headache have long suspected—having more stress in your life leads to more headaches. The study released today will be presented at the American Academy ...

What not to do for migraines

November 21, 2013

(HealthDay)—Prescription pain medications should not be the first treatment for migraines. And doctors shouldn't routinely order brain scans for patients with these debilitating headaches, according to new guidelines.

Recommended for you

Zika virus infection alters human and viral RNA

October 20, 2016

Researchers at University of California San Diego School of Medicine have discovered that Zika virus infection leads to modifications of both viral and human genetic material. These modifications—chemical tags known as ...

Food-poisoning bacteria may be behind Crohn's disease

October 19, 2016

People who retain a particular bacterium in their gut after a bout of food poisoning may be at an increased risk of developing Crohn's disease later in life, according to a new study led by researchers at McMaster University.

Neurodevelopmental model of Zika may provide rapid answers

October 19, 2016

A newly published study from researchers working in collaboration with the Regenerative Bioscience Center at the University of Georgia demonstrates fetal death and brain damage in early chick embryos similar to microcephaly—a ...

Scientists uncover new facets of Zika-related birth defects

October 17, 2016

In a study that could one day help eliminate the tragic birth defects caused by Zika virus, scientists from the Florida campus of The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) have elucidated how the virus attacks the brains of newborns, ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.