Types Of Headaches Hormonal Headaches Hormones

Hormone headaches are headaches associated with female sex hormones and a woman’s reproductive cycle. Levels of estrogen and other sex hormones appear to trigger hormone headaches. Major hormonal changes such as menarche, premenstrual syndrome, pregnancy, and menopause are all associated with changes in the frequency and intensity of women’s headaches.

Symptoms of a Hormone Headache

The symptoms of a hormone headache are similar to migraine headaches. A hormone headache affects only one side of the head, and the pain is often described as throbbing. Hormone headache pain may cause nausea and vomiting, and is often aggravated by bright light and loud noises.

Premenstrual Syndrome Triggers and Hormone Headache

Many women experience premenstrual syndrome, a set of conditions that occur seven to eleven days before the menstrual period. Hormone headaches are often included in premenstrual syndrome symptoms, occurring because female sex hormones such as estrogen drop prior to a period. Premenstrual syndrome symptoms can include:

  • acne outbreaks
  • anxiety
  • constipation
  • emotional sensitivity
  • fatigue
  • food cravings
  • hormone headaches
  • impaired concentration
  • increased appetite
  • joint pain
  • lowered sexual drive.

Ten percent of premenstrual syndrome sufferers experience severe premenstrual syndrome, when hormone headaches and others symptoms become debilitating.

Hormone Headache or Menstrual Migraine?

The distinction between a premenstrual syndrome hormone headache and a menstrual migraine is somewhat arbitrary. Basically, a hormone headache occurs prior to menses, usually alongside premenstrual syndrome. A menstrual migraine is a hormone related migraine that occurs between the second day of menses and the end of menstruation.

Oral Contraceptives and Hormone Headaches

Use of oral contraceptives also alters estrogen levels and hormone headaches. One third of female migraine sufferers experience fewer migraines while taking oral contraceptives. For another third, hormone levels altered by oral contraceptives make their migraines worse.

The exact relationship between hormone headaches and oral contraceptive use is unclear. Women are more likely to experience their first migraine while taking oral contraceptives. As with premenstrual syndrome, estrogen levels appear to influence hormone headache frequency when taking oral contraceptives. For women using oral contraceptive, hormone headache frequency also rises during the “sugar pill” week when estrogen level changes.

Menopause, Pregnancy, and Hormone Headaches

In addition to premenstrual syndrome and oral contraceptive use, hormone headaches may develop in the first trimester of pregnancy, in the initial period after childbirth, and at the start of menopause. In all these cases, estrogen and other hormone levels fluctuate widely, increasing the likelihood of hormone headaches.

Hormone Headache Treatment and Prevention

Triptans, a family of migraine medications, are often used in hormone headache treatment, and may fend off a hormone headache if taken early into headache onset. If hormone headaches are a predictable part of premenstrual syndrome and menstruation, triptans can be taken one to two days prior to expected headache onset. Over the counter NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) can be used in the five to seven days before a menstrual period, if recommended by a doctor. NSAIDs such as aspirin, acetaminophen, and ibuprofen decrease the frequency of hormone headaches and relieve some premenstrual syndrome symptoms, such as cramping.

One note of caution if using NSAIDs or triptans as preventives for hormone headaches: Overuse of these medications may lead to rebound headaches. Consult your doctor for the best hormone headache treatment, and follow dosage recommendations carefully.

Resources

American Council for Headache Medication. (updated 2001). Will using oral contraceptives make my headaches worse?

American Council for Headache Medication. (updated 2001). Prevalence of menstrual migraine.

Health Square. (updated 2004). Women’s health: Premenstrual syndrome.

National Headache Foundation. (nd). Headache types: Hormone.

National headache Foundation. (nd). Hormones and migraine.

University of Pennsylvania Health System. (nd). Premenstrual syndrome.