April 28, 2023
Content created for the Bezzy community and sponsored by our partners. Learn More
Photography by Daria Kulkova/Getty Images
Menstrual migraine is common, but each person’s experience is unique. Here’s what I learned from hearing other people’s stories about living with menstrual migraine.
I was 11 when I began to have menstrual migraine attacks. My attacks often began as a headache followed by unbearable nausea, photophobia, and hyperosmia. The attacks never failed to show up right before my monthly menstrual cycle.
At the time, I wasn’t able to swallow pills, so when I could manage it, I would crush up ibuprofen and chase the powder down with water. While this offered temporary relief, I sought long-term solutions. Luckily, I found a holistic treatment regimen that has helped me figure out how to prevent my migraine attacks.
As I’ve aged, my menstrual migraine attacks have, thankfully, become a thing of the past. While I still experience migraine attacks, my triggers have changed to lack of sleep, dehydration, and weather-related patterns. Headaches and migraine attacks can become less frequent as you age, but it’s important to remember that migraine symptoms and attacks are unique for each person.
Menstrual migraine is a relatively common form of migraine. Studies suggest that these attacks are caused by a drop in estrogen right before your period begins. If you experience a migraine attack somewhere between 2 days prior to your cycle and the third day of your menstrual bleeding, your attacks may be linked to your cycle.
The symptoms of menstrual migraine attacks resemble those of other forms of migraine attacks and can include:
These attacks can accompany premenstrual symptoms such as bloating, breast tenderness, nausea, and mood changes.
Your hormones can also change due to pregnancy or changes in your menstrual cycle. Though your migraine attacks may worsen while your hormones shift, many people find that their symptoms decrease after menopause. Studies have found that many people experience fewer migraine attacks during pregnancy but more during the postpartum stage.
Dom Pere is a 32-year-old trans tattoo artist and fabricator who works in woodwork and metalwork. For as long as Dom can remember, they have had migraine. They recall their migraine attacks always occurring on the first day of their period and being much worse than attacks that happened at other points of the month.
They also experience ocular migraine and hemiplegic migraine. Their menstrual migraine attacks usually involve nausea and tinnitus.
As a child, Dom went to a primary care doctor to seek treatment. They were given neurological tests and prescribed a variety of triptans that never helped. Unfortunately, Dom has had inconsistent healthcare coverage, which has made it hard to follow up with specialists and stay on any preventive medications.
When Dom began taking testosterone, their monthly periods stopped. While testosterone is not used as a treatment for migraine, Dom’s menstrual migraine attacks stopped when their periods did. In the long run, Dom has found that keeping a food diary and having a good heating pad helps manage their migraine symptoms.
Una Nelson, who is 59 years old, remembers all too well the pain of her menstrual migraine attacks. She began experiencing this type of migraine around age 12. Each attack would last about 24 hours.
“It would hit hard and land hard, and at the end of 24 hours I was feeling on top of the world,” she says.
She remembers lying in bed in the darkness with a cold compress. Throwing up did provide her with some relief, but not enough to completely recover.
She also experienced aura as a white, hazy light. She compares it to looking at a light outside in a rainstorm.
When Una was a child, her father would put her feet in hot water to try to pull the blood from her head to her feet, a practice known as hydrotherapy. Avoiding certain trigger foods and taking ibuprofen had no effect. Nothing helped.
Una was forced to grit her teeth and deal with her monthly attacks. She learned to prepare ahead of time, making meals that she could freeze and getting important tasks done when she wasn’t experiencing an attack.
This preparation helped her cope when an attack hit and helped reduce stress, another major trigger for her migraine symptoms.
When Una became pregnant, her menstrual migraine attacks stopped. This happened in all three of her pregnancies. Her obstetrician told her this could be a good sign and that, hopefully, once she reached menopause, her attacks would clear up altogether.
Una had her third child at about age 35 and went into menopause at age 45. At that point, as her doctor had predicted, her migraine attacks gradually faded away and then stopped completely.
Una says that developing pain management techniques was very helpful. She was also lucky to have friends, neighbors, and family members who were willing to step in and help her with her children when needed.
She feels so grateful to no longer experience attacks.
“Unless you get them, you don’t understand what that pain is,” she says. “It’s not just a headache. My head felt like it was in a vise grip.”
These days, she does deal with cluster headaches, but she has not had a migraine attack since going through menopause. Her experience with migraine has taught her empathy, especially when it comes to chronic pain. She says she has come away from that phase in her life a lot stronger.
If you suspect that hormone changes are causing your attacks, tracking your period with an app or a journal can give you valuable insights. In addition to helping you tune into your body’s needs, it may allow you to notice patterns that can help you identify symptoms of an attack sooner.
Bringing your notes to your next doctor’s appointment can be a great way to start the conversation about menstrual migraine. You can go over your insights with your doctor to figure out the best strategy for managing your episodes.
Medically reviewed on April 28, 2023
Have thoughts or suggestions about this article? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
About the author