Experts Explain How to Get Rid of Those Debilitating Menstrual Migraines for Good
Most of these treatments you already have in your home.
Too many of us have stories about struggling to access the care we need. Often, health care obstacles are directly tied to medicine’s gender bias, as well as stigmas relating to our race, ethnicity, sexuality, gender identity, age, size, income, and condition. In our series Pain Today, we are highlighting these stories through personal and reported essays, hoping to empower each other to advocate for our health in a way that much of the medical community does not.
Ever since I got off the pill, for the last year or so without fail, I would experience a throbbing ache behind my left eye. Sometimes it would spread to my jaw or sometimes I would be sensitive to light. But I would always be super tired. After a lot of Google searching and chatting with friends who experienced similar symptoms, I realized I was suffering from menstrual migraines.
People with vulvas are at the greatest risk for developing migraines. According to the Cleveland Clinic, 70% of people who experience migraines are women. Of these women, 60% to 70% report a connection between their menstruation (periods) and their migraines. So if this sounds similar to what you experience each month, scroll below to learn what is a menstrual migraine and how the time of the month can create headaches.
What is a migraine?
“The difference between migraine and tension-type (the most common type) headache is that the pain of migraine is more severe, the pain is often throbbing, typically (but not always) on one side of the head,” Dr. Alexander Mauskop, MD, FAAN, professor of Clinical Neurology at SUNY, and director of New York Headache Center tells HelloGiggles.
“It is made worse by light physical activity and is accompanied by nausea, sensitivity to light, noise, and smells,” he adds. “None of these features are required for the diagnosis of migraine. If two or three are present, it is a migraine.”
Migraine headaches are typically pretty severe. Not only can it be accompanied by sensitivity to light and sound and nausea, with or without vomiting, but according to Dr. Sara Crystal, a neurologist and medical director for Cove, a digital health program that allows patients to access expert care for their migraines, 25% of people with migraine experience an aura before or during their attacks. “These usually consist of visual disturbances,” she says. “For example, bright, flashing lights. These can be very frightening, particularly the first time they occur.”
In addition, many people with migraines experience symptoms hours to days before the pain starts. You might experience mood and appetite changes, yawning, and food cravings, for example. “These are called prodromal symptoms,” says Dr. Crystal. “Similarly, even after the pain resolves, many people have to deal with the ‘migraine hangover’ or postdrome, which may include impaired concentration, fatigue, and generally feeling not fully functional. This phase can last up to two days.”
What is the difference between a migraine and a menstrual migraine?
“Menstrual migraine is a typical migraine that occurs before or during the period,” says Dr. Mauskop. “The drop of estrogen levels precipitates the attack.”
Dr. Mauskop also says that the estrogen drops also happen to a lesser degree before ovulation with some women even having migraines twice a month: with ovulation and with menstruation. “During pregnancy and menopause migraines often improve because estrogen level remains steady,” she adds.
Why do I get migraines during my menstrual cycle?
According to Maritza Worthington, FDN-P, CHNC, a functional nutritionist and gut and hormone specialist, hormonal headaches occur because your body is trying to communicate to or request something from you.
“Typically when hormonal headaches are coming up every month (especially during luteal or menstrual phase), this can indicate estrogen dominance, thyroid/cortisol imbalances, or nutrient/mineral deficiencies like B vitamins and magnesium,” she says.
Menstrual migraine treatments:
1. Track your periods and menstrual migraines.
First, Dr. Crystal recommends tracking your migraine, when they occur, the intensity, symptoms, etc. “Over time, patterns often emerge that help doctors identify triggers and, more importantly, find the most effective treatment, faster,” she says.
Track your periods as well, she says. “Tracking both migraines and periods can help determine when your migraine typically begins in relation to your cycle, because getting ahead of the pain before it starts is very helpful.”
2. Eat anti-inflammatory foods.
“An anti-inflammatory diet filled with vegetables and roots like turmeric and ginger can be especially helpful in the days leading up to your period,” says Worthington. “Turmeric is a powerful root that works to reduce inflammatory pathways that can trigger pain. Turmeric can also be taken in the form of a latte, capsule, or tincture, if higher doses are needed.”
Similar to turmeric, ginger root has been shown to be a great NSAID alternative at higher doses (1,000 mg) and can really reduce pain and inflammation associated with increased inflammatory prostaglandins released during menstruation. “It’s always a great idea to double up on both roots and make a powerful anti-inflammatory tea concoction,” Worthington adds.
3. Take magnesium.
“Magnesium is one of the most common mineral deficiencies that I see, and sometimes this can be linked to those debilitating headaches,” says Worthington. “Many women are just not getting enough magnesium in their diet and a lot of this is due to nutrient-depleted soil and stressors from modern-day living.”
According to Worthington, during the luteal phase of a woman’s cycle, magnesium reserves are used up more readily than any other time in a woman’s cycle. “This is why it’s a good idea to amp up those magnesium foods at least a week before aunt flow arrives,” she says. “Excellent sources of magnesium include green leafy vegetables, fish, pumpkin seeds, dark chocolate, and Epsom salt baths or topical oil-based solutions.”
4. Use peppermint essential oil.
“A few drops of peppermint essential oil rubbed into the temples can put a little extra pep in your step,” says Worthington. “Since it’s a stimulating oil that is mildly energizing, it can help relieve hormone migraines and menstrual aches that might come up during menstruation.”