As if periods don’t come with enough side effects, some of us are also forced to bear splitting headaches like clockwork every month. But at what point is it more than just female predisposition, and instead something that needs some serious attention? Being a woman is easy, right? Not so much, but knowing how to deal with and minimize your symptoms can make all the difference.
You don’t need us to tell you that your hormones are a mess during your period (how many times have you had to apologize to your partner for crying over nothing?), but you might not realize how closely they’re connected to the pounding pain you feel in your head every few weeks. If you’re noticing that you feel that throbbing in your head every month, especially around the first day of your period, it’s most likely not just a headache — it’s a menstrual migraine. Menstrual migraines most often occur when hormone levels are off balance and pose most threat between two days before menstruation and three days after.
If you sense this is a reoccurring issue, you can establish a pattern by keeping a diary of when your period starts and when the migraine usually comes on (it’s as easy as setting a calendar reminder on your phone). If you find that your migraines and periods are predictable, you can learn the best times to practice techniques that help stop the pain before it even begins. For some, the fix can be as easy as taking an over-the-counter medication two days before their period. However, if your migraines are particularly debilitating, your doctor can prescribe migraine medications called triptans, which can help reduce inflammation by restricting the blood vessels. They work better than over-the-counter options, but can’t be used by those at risk of stroke, or anyone with high blood pressure or coronary heart disease. If you have irregular periods and can’t track migraines as easily, your doctor may recommend taking preventative medications every day.
One culprit you might not have considered? Your birth control. It’s also important to consider that your preferred form of birth control could be contributing to menstrual migraines. Because estrogen levels naturally drop during the menstrual cycle, contraceptive pills with high levels of estrogen can create a massive fluctuation during menstruation, resulting in painful headaches. Instead, opt for birth control with a lower dose of estrogen to reduce the drop during placebo days or use a monthly birth control pack with fewer placebo days. If you like the birth control you’re currently taking, you can consult your doctor on taking prescribed triptans to alleviate migraines that occur during those placebo days.
Of course, there are plenty of other factors that play into headaches and migraines, whether you’re on your period or not. However, it’s especially important to pay attention to your overall health during menstruation. Don’t skip meals or fast if you don’t have to when you’re on your period — also it might be helpful to avoid processed foods, artificial sweeteners, alcohol and highly caffeinated drinks. Lack of sleep and high stress levels can also contribute to pounding headaches, so stay rested and learn to cope with stressful situations. Exercise can not only help relieve stress and regulate your sleep pattern, it can also reduce the frequency of headaches and intensity of migraines due to the release of endorphins. In other words, think twice before skipping your next yoga session.
When in doubt, always consult your doctor if headaches persist or become more painful, just be sure to come prepared to your exam. Bringing your current birth control and sharing your menstrual and headache calendar with your physician will make it much easier to determine a cure.