It’s estimated that around five million women experience headaches related to their hormones. Headaches, especially migraines, have been linked to oestrogen, the female hormone. It controls chemicals in the brain that affect your pain tolerance and a drop in these levels can trigger a headache.
The most common hormone-related headache is a pre-period one, more than likely due to a drop in oestrogen levels before your period starts.
Getting pregnant therefore can often be a relief, however, in some women, they will actually experience even worse headaches in early pregnancy. Thankfully, these usually do go away after the first trimester when oestrogen rises again.
The peri-menopausal however can actually be the worse for headaches thanks to those fluctuating hormone levels – they’re evil, aren’t they? There is some relief in sight though as about two-thirds of women who have suffered from migraines find they lessen, or go away totally, once the menopause properly kicks in.
Hormonal headaches or migraines are similar to regular migraines. The pain usually starts on one side of the head and becomes a throbbing sensation that can’t be ignored. It can also include nausea, vomiting and sensitivity to light.
How to beat hormonal headaches
Get the right amount of sleep: Too little and too much sleep can make headaches worse so try and get your sleeping habits into a regular pattern, especially prior to your period starting.
Go alternative: The herb Feverfew has been found to improve headaches for many sufferers. It works by widening the blood vessels, which encourages a better flow of blood and relieves pain and tension. It’s quite a bitter herb though so we don’t recommend making a tea from it. Instead pop some capsules, which can be found in Holland & Barrett and other health stores.
Up your fluid intake: While your hormones can make your headache worse, not drinking enough could also trigger them. Make sure you drink the recommended eight glasses a day to ensure that dehydration is not the reason behind your pain.
Try acupuncture: NICE – or the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence – recommends a ten week course in acupuncture for those who suffer from headaches. Acupuncture helps to increase blood flow and endorphins, both of which help relieve the symptoms of menstrual headaches. To find a reputable therapist near you, visit the British Acupuncture Council website.
Take a yoga class: Stress makes headaches worse so try meditating or join a yoga class when you know an attack is close. Yoga helps release tension and improves circulation around the body, which can help with pain. A good yoga teacher will know the positions that help relieve headaches, but the Cat pose, Child’s pose and a seated twist are all good positions to start with.
Don’t skip meals: If you’re a frequent migraine sufferer, your period is due or you’re perimenopausal, it’s important to keep your blood sugar levels regular. When your levels dip, your body releases hormones to counteract this, which can bring on a headache. Keep some healthy snacks such as nuts or carrot sticks close by so your blood sugar doesn’t dip.
Have sex: While you might want to utter those infamous words, ‘not tonight darling, I’ve got a headache’, it seems sex could be just what you need! A study by the University of Munster in Germany discovered that more than half of migraine sufferers who had sex during a headache saw an improvement in their symptoms. This could be because sex triggers happy hormones – endorphins – which acts as a natural pain reliever.
Take the pill: Some women find their headaches stop once they start taking the combined pill, however, others report bad headaches during the pill-free week, when oestrogen levels drop. HRT can also alleviate or bring on headaches – you need to work with your GP to find the right level and method to make them less of a literal pain in the head.
See your doctor: If the above tips don’t give you any relief, it’s time to book an appointment with your GP. They can prescribe stronger painkillers or even oestrogen supplements to help keep levels steady and prevent hormone-related headaches.