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Why Do Women Have Migraines

Testosterone Seems To Protect Against Migraine While Estrogen Makes It Worse

Migraine Headache : Causes & Triggers | Why do we get Migraine? – Dr.Anil R

The study fills in new details about how changing levels of estrogen can lead to a Migraine attack. Swings in hormone levels before menstruation, during pregnancy, and during perimenopause and menopause lead to an increase in Migraine attacks for many women. The new evidence suggests that changing levels of female sex hormones make the cells around the trigeminal nerve more sensitive to stimuli. This lowers the trigger threshold, making it easier to trigger an attack.

Interestingly, testosterone seems to have a protective effect against Migraine. The press release details the findings:

Ferrer-Montiel and his team reviewed decades of literature on sex hormones, migraine sensitivity and cells’ responses to migraine triggers to identify the role of specific hormones.

Some seem to protect against migraines, while others appear to make migraines worse. They do this by making the cells’ ion channels, which control the cells’ reactions to outside stimuli, more or less vulnerable to migraine triggers…

However, Ferrer-Montiel cautions that their work is preliminary. The role of estrogen and other hormones in migraine is complex and much more research is needed to understand it. The authors emphasize the need for longitudinal studies focusing on the relationship between menstrual hormones and migraines. Their current work relies on in vitro and animal models, which aren’t easy to translate to human migraine sufferers.

Headaches And Women: What Do Hormones Have To Do With It

A bad headache can ruin your workday, strain your relationship with family members and affect your ability to exercise. In the U.S., headaches cause 112 million sick days each year. While one-third of the population gets headaches, women suffer more than men do.

Changes in hormones could be among the reasons women have more headaches than men do.

These hormone-related headache triggers include:

  • menstruation
  • menopause

Why Do Women Suffer More With Migraines

One woman who is stressed or in pain from depression, anxiety or headache related health issues


With more than 39 million Americans claim to have suffered from a migraine headache, its one of the most common health concerns. Symptoms can be as personal to sufferers as to what causes them and in most cases, you simply have to wait them out. And ask anyone who has experienced one, this is no normal headache. Some unlucky sufferers can be debilitated for hours. However, are migraines a womens health issue? Men, women, and children can be affected by migraines but when you look at the break down of who suffers most frequently and for the longest time things become a lot more gendered.

Migraine headaches are an incredibly common ailment and the likelihood is, if you havent ever suffered from one yourself youll know someone who has. However, according to the Migraine Research Foundation of the 39 million Americans whove experienced a migraine, 28 million are women. 18% of women in the US suffer compared to 6% of men. As women hit puberty and their levels of estrogen rise, as many as 43% of women experience migraines and 85% of people with a chronic migraine diagnosis are women.

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Brain Differences May Explain Disparity Between The Sexes

Migraines are a battle of the sexes that women might prefer not winning. Each year, roughly three times more women than menup to 18% of all womensuffer from the debilitating headaches, as tallied by epidemiological surveys in Europe and the United States. A new brain imaging study may explain the divide: The brains of women with migraines appear to be built differently than those of their male counterparts.

To conduct the study, researchers headed by David Borsook, a neurologist and neurobiologist of Boston Children’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School, recruited 44 men and women, half of whom were migraine sufferers. The women who had migraines rated them as being as intense as the men did, but they tended to find them more unpleasant. Borsook says the distinction is analogous to the loudness of fingernails scratching on a chalkboard versus the torment of hearing the sound.

When Maleki checked for sex differences in well-defined pain networks, most of the structures that responded stronger in women were part of the emotional network. “In men, the pain comes in, and the brain says ‘ouch,’ ” Maleki says. “In women, the brain says ‘OUCHHHHH!’ ” Overall, the results suggest that “it’s not just one area that underlies the sex differences in migraines, but a network of areas, a system that leads to the problem or progression,” she says.

How Are Migraines Diagnosed

Why do women suffer more migraines than men?

Your doctor can diagnose migraines by the symptoms you describe. If the diagnosis is not clear, your doctor will perform a physical exam. Your doctor might want to do blood tests or imaging tests, such as an MRI or CAT scan of the brain. These tests can help ensure there are no other causes for the headache. You may also be asked to keep a headache journal. This can help your doctor identify the things that might cause your migraines.

If headache pain is getting in the way of your daily activities, its time to see your family doctor. Read More

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When Should You See A Headache Or Migraine Specialist

Eating a healthy diet at constant intervals, regular sleep habits, exercise, yoga, and meditation are all known to help prevent and decrease the frequency of migraines, but if youve tried these things and had no migraine pain relief, it may be time to see a migraine specialist. If you are in the Greater Houston area, Space City Pain Specialists has appointments available at their Lake Jackson, Webster, and Baytown locations with doctors that are experienced in helping patients relieve their migraine pain and suffering. Call our office at 281-338-4443 or click here to request an appointment online.

Hormones As A Factor In Migraines And Women

In fact, more than half of all migraines experienced by women happen around the time of their periods.1 However, few women experience migraines only at “that time of month.”1

While the exact connection between menstruation and migraine remains unclear, heres what we do know:

  • Levels of the female hormones estrogen and progesterone fall steeply just before a woman gets her period
  • This drop may trigger a migraine due to the role estrogen plays in the brain chemicals that regulate pain1
  • Fortunately, for most women, a combination of lifestyle changes and migraine treatments can help aid migraine relief for women.


  • U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Migraine Fact Sheet. Available at: . Last accessed July 2011.
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    How Are Migraines Treated

    Migraine has no cure. But your migraines can be managed with your doctor’s help. Together, you will find ways to treat migraine symptoms when they happen, as well as ways to help make your migraines less frequent and severe. Your treatment plan may include some or all of these methods.

    Medicine. There are two ways to approach the treatment of migraines with drugs: stopping a migraine in progress and prevention. Many people with migraine use both forms of treatment.

    Acute treatment. Over-the-counter pain-relief drugs such as aspirin, acetaminophen, or NSAIDs like ibuprofen relieve mild migraine pain for some people. If these drugs don’t work for you, your doctor might want you to try a prescription drug. Two classes of drugs that doctors often try first are:

    • Triptans, which work by balancing the chemicals in the brain. Examples include sumatriptan , rizatriptan , zolmitriptan , almotriptan , eletriptan , naratriptan , and frovatriptan . Triptans can come as tablets that you swallow, tablets that dissolve on your tongue, nasal sprays, and as a shot. They should not be used if you have heart disease or high blood pressure.
    • Ergot derivatives , which work in the same way as triptans. They should not be used if you have heart disease or high blood pressure.

    Prevention. Some medicines used daily can help prevent attacks. Many of these drugs were designed to treat other health conditions, such as epilepsy and depression. Some examples are:

    Why Women Have More Headaches

    15 percent of Americans have migraine disease. Why aren’t there better treatment options?

    Three women are afflicted with migraine for every one man. Between 18 and 25% of women experience migraine. Not only are women more prone to developing migraine than men, they are also more prone to chronic migraine .

    But why is that?

    There are many possible reasons why women suffer more migraines than men.

    Read Also: Mayo Clinic Headaches

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    Lack of sleep ruins everything. It can expand your waistline, make you crave junk food, hurt your memory, and make you cranky . But it turns out that chronic insomnia can also cause chronic headaches. “Unrested muscles can cause tension headaches and insomnia releases stress hormones, both of which trigger headaches,” Mikhael says.

    Here’s the Diet Coke paradox: A little caffeine can cure a headachethat’s why it’s a main ingredient in Excedrinbut too much caffeine can trigger a headache. And the line is very individual. Mikhael recommends taking caffeine out completely and seeing if your headaches go away. If not, try using it only in small doses.

    Watch a hot doc explain how to treat a headache without drugs:

    What Should I Do When A Migraine Begins

    Work with your doctor to come up with a plan for managing your migraines. Keeping a list of home treatment methods that have worked for you in the past also can help. When symptoms begin:

    • If you take migraine medicine, take it right away.
    • Drink fluids, if you don’t have nausea during your migraine.
    • Lie down and rest in a dark, quiet room, if that is practical.

    Some people find the following useful:

    • A cold cloth on your head
    • Rubbing or applying pressure to the spot where you feel pain
    • Massage or other relaxation exercises

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    Whats A Migraine What Does It Feel Like

    A migraine is more than a bad headache. Its a neurologic disease with a series of symptoms that might include debilitating pain on one side of your head that you may describe as pulsing or throbbing. Menstrual migraines, also known as hormone headaches, happen right before or during a womans period and may get worse with movement, light, smells, or sound. Your symptoms may last for a few hours, but theyll likely last days.

    Its estimated that 70% of people who experience migraines are women. Of these women, 60% to 70% report a connection between their menstruation and their migraine attacks. Women experience migraine attacks three times more frequently than men.

    A menstrual migraine is one of several types of migraine headaches. Examples of other migraines include migraine with aura, migraine without aura and chronic migraine.

    Reducing The Severity Of A Migraine Attack

    Why Do Women Suffer More With Migraines?

    In addition to preventing your attacks through the above steps, there are acute medications you can take that can reduce the severity of the attack. These include over-the-counter or prescription analgesics, triptans, and ergot alkaloids.

    I tell all my patients, Our goal with you is to get you down to one to two headaches per month that you can make go away within an hour, and until we get to that goal, were going to keep working with you, Dr. Hershey says. Once you get to the goal, then its your job to help maintain that.

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    How Can I Tell If I Have A Migraine Or Just A Bad Tension

    Compared with migraine, tension-type headache is generally less severe and rarely disabling. Compare your symptoms with those in this chart to see what type of headache you might be having.

    Migraine vs. bad tension-type headache

    Aura before onset of headachex

    Note: Rebound headache may have features of tension and/or migraine headache. Adapted from a table produced by the American Council for Headache Education.

    Although fatigue and stress can bring on both tension and migraine headaches, migraines can be triggered by certain foods, changes in the body’s hormone levels, and even changes in the weather.

    There also are differences in how types of headaches respond to treatment with medicines. Although some over-the-counter drugs used to treat tension-type headaches sometimes help migraine headaches, the drugs used to treat migraine attacks do not work for tension-type headaches for most people.

    You can’t tell the difference between a migraine and a tension-type headache by how often they occur. Both can occur at irregular intervals. Also, in rare cases, both can occur daily or almost daily.

    Dr Andrew Hershey Outlines Migraines Contributing Factors And What You Can Do To Prevent A Migraine Attack

    If you are one of the 37 million Americans diagnosed with migraine, your mind is likely overflowing with questions. These may include whats causing my migraine attacks, and is there anything I can do stop them?

    There are many different factors that can contribute to why you are experiencing migraine attacks. We recently spoke with Dr. Andrew Hershey, Endowed Chair and Director of Neurology at Cincinnati Childrens Hospital and Director of the Headache Center, about what causes migraine and how you can begin to identify effective treatments.

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    Should I Have An Hysterectomy

    All research points to the fact that hysterectomy worsens migraine. The menstrual cycle is controlled by the brain, which sends messages to the ovaries to stimulate the production of the hormones estrogen and progesterone. These in turn prepare the lining of the womb for a potential pregnancy. If a woman does not become pregnant, then the lining of the womb is shed at menstruation and the cycle starts over again. If the womb and ovaries are removed, the hormone cycle is disrupted and the brain hormones initially go into overdrive as they are not prepared for this early menopause. Migraine can worsen but generally settles again over the subsequent couple of years. Replacement estrogen can help lessen the symptoms following hysterectomy, particularly if the ovaries have been removed. Even when the ovaries are retained, the natural hormone cycle can be disrupted, so additional estrogen may be helpful.

    What Are The Treatment Options For Menopausal Migraines

    What causes headaches? – Dan Kwartler

    If you need to continue estrogen supplements after menopause, you should start on the lowest dose of these agents, on an uninterrupted basis. Instead of seven days off the drug, you may be told to take it every day. By maintaining a steady dose of estrogen, the headaches may be prevented. An estrogen patch may be effective in stabilizing the levels of estrogen.

    Read Also: Can Breastfeeding Moms Take Excedrin

    When Should I Seek Help For My Headaches

    Sometimes, headache can signal a more serious problem. You should talk to your doctor about your headaches if:

    • You have several headaches per month and each lasts for several hours or days
    • Your headaches disrupt your home, work, or school life
    • You have nausea, vomiting, vision, or other sensory problems
    • You have pain around the eye or ear
    • You have a severe headache with a stiff neck
    • You have a headache with confusion or loss of alertness
    • You have a headache with convulsions
    • You have a headache after a blow to the head
    • You used to be headache-free, but now have headaches a lot

    Translational Science: From Bench To Bedside

    Some articles combined basic research with research in the clinical setting involving patients, although they generally described sex differences rather than gender differences. These articles mainly aimed to describe the pathophysiology of migraine.

    A study by Karkhaneh et al. determined the effect of 17-estradiol on the expression and activity of genes involved in the process of neurogenic inflammation. The authors studied the regulation of CGRP expression, inducible nitric oxide synthase activity, and NO and interleukin-1beta release in females with pure menstrual migraine and age-and sex-matched healthy individuals. Cultured peripheral blood mononuclear cells from these participants were treated with 17-estradiol both, at physiological and pharmacological doses. The pharmacological dose caused a significant increase in mRNA expression of CGRP in both groups. In contrast, the physiological dose caused a significant decrease in mRNA expression of CRP, CGRP protein levels, IL-1 release, NO production and iNOS activity only in females with pure menstrual migraine .

    In a review article, Labastida-Ramírez et al. describe sex differences of CGRP in migraine. This review highlights the profound effects varying ovarian hormones have on the trigeminovascular system in both animal and human migraine preclinical research models .

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    How Are Menstrual Migraines Treated What Medicines Can I Use

    A menstrual migraine is usually treated with nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications . The NSAIDs most often used for menstrual migraine include:

    • Ketoprofen .
    • Analgesics.
    • Corticosteroids.

    These drugs should also be started two to three days before your period starts. Continue taking them throughout your menstrual flow.

    Because fluid retention often occurs at the same time as your menses, diuretics have been used to prevent menstrual migraines. Some healthcare providers may recommend that you follow a low-salt diet immediately before the start of your menses.

    Leuprolide is a medication that affects your hormone levels. Its used only when all other treatment methods have been tried and havent worked.

    Can Migraines Be Prevented Or Avoided

    Why Do People Get Headaches?

    Medicine to prevent migraines may be helpful if your headaches happen more than 2 times a month. You may want to consider this medicine if your headaches make it hard for you to work and function. These medicines are taken every day, whether you have a headache or not.

    Preventive medications for migraines can include prescription drugs often used to treat other ailments. Anti-seizure medicines, antidepressants, medicines to lower blood pressure, and even Botox injections are some of the preventive medications your doctor may prescribe. Calcitonin gene-related peptide inhibitors can also help prevent migraines. They do so by blocking a gene-related peptide in your sensory nerves. This peptide is known to increase during a migraine attack, so blocking it can help prevent migraines.

    There are also a number of non-medical treatments designed to help minimize migraine pain and frequency. One is an electrical stimulation device, which has been approved by the FDA. It is a headband that you wear once a day for 20 minutes to stimulate the nerve linked to migraines. Another non-medical treatment is counseling aimed at helping you feel in more control of your migraines. This counseling works best when paired with medical prevention of migraines, as well.

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