Both men and women can suffer from headaches for any number of reasons, including age, dehydration, or weather conditions. But women also have a risk unique to them: hormones.
“When women experience fluctuating hormone levels—like during menstruation, pregnancy, or menopause—these levels can affect the chemicals in the brain. As a result, it’s not uncommon for women to experience more headaches,” explains Christopher Lobo, MD, gynecologist at Riddle Hospital.
Fortunately, although there’s not much that can be done about hormones, there is a way to reduce or eliminate the headaches they’re causing. Below, Dr. Lobo lists some of the most common causes of hormonal headaches in women, and how to treat them.
If you find yourself experiencing headaches in the days before and after your period, over-the-counter pain medicines are usually enough to reduce the pain. If your hormonal headaches are regular, you may even begin taking medicine a few days before the start of your period as a preventative measure. For some women with more severe headaches, it might help to supplement your medicine with remedies like acupuncture, relaxation exercises, and applying ice to your forehead or neck.
Birth control pills
Didn’t notice headaches until you started taking the birth control pill? It’s not abnormal, says Dr. Lobo. Taking a birth control pill can change the frequency and severity of your headaches, so if you notice that your headaches are getting worse after you start taking one, talk to your gynecologist. They may be able to recommend one with a lower dose of estrogen.
During pregnancy, your estrogen levels are high, which can mean constant headaches. Unfortunately, they aren’t as easy to treat. Pregnant women need to be cautious about taking headache medications both during pregnancy and breastfeeding after the baby is born. Because of this, it’s important to talk to your doctor if you have a history of headaches before you become pregnant, particularly if your headaches are severe.
For perimenopausal and menopausal women who are experiencing fluctuating hormone levels anywhere from a few months to a few years prior to and during menopause, headaches can seem constant. This is especially true for women who experience menstrual migraines. Some women may find relief after menopause, but others continue to suffer. Talk to your doctor about treatment options, including hormone replacement therapy (HRT). Like birth control, HRT can worsen your headaches.
Talk to your doctor if you’re experiencing headaches and migraines to determine what treatment is right for you. You can also help reduce the number of headaches you have by paying attention to “triggers” like alcohol, caffeine, red wine, and food containing monosodium glutamate, which can be found in Chinese food.