Is a cracking headache one of your standard PMS symptoms, or do you ever feel like your head is going to explode when you’ve got your period? If the answer is yes, then your headaches may well be linked to your hormones. Also, if you're a migraine sufferer, it's worth knowing that migraines affect three times more women than men, and typically during their most productive years.
Today, Dr Louise Newson, a GP who holds regular women's health clinics at Spire Parkway Hospital in Solihull gives us the NTKs about hormonal headaches.
So, is a headache really brain pain?
Even though it may feel like your brain is the source of all your pain, headaches have got nothing to do with your brain hurting – in fact brain tissue can’t feel even feel pain explains Dr Newson. "Headaches are pain signals that are sent from your nerves, blood vessels or muscles being picked up by nerve endings located in your head. Hence it appears you have headache when the situation stems from elsewhere in your body," she says.
The headache / hormone link
If headaches are happening at specific times during your cycle, then it’s likely they’re being caused by the fluctuating hormones occurring in your body. Dr Newson says: "Some women are very sensitive to the changing levels of the hormone oestrogen, which can occur before their periods, during the peri-menopause or during the menopause. This can result in headaches or migraines developing. They can also occur at other times when hormone levels are changing, such as during pregnancy and when taking some types of oral contraceptives."
Spotting the signs
Although there’s no specific test to determine if your headache is definitely related to your hormones, it might be worth making a headache diary to document when you have a headache in relation to your periods, suggests Dr Newson.
“The more common times to have headaches related to your hormones are the days just before your period and during your period or when you have the week break from the contraceptive pill. They can also be more common as you get older and when periods change in frequency and nature and women experience perimenopausal or menopausal symptoms such as hot flushes, night sweats, tiredness and low mood," adds Dr Newson.
Managing menstrual migraines and hormonal headaches
Apart from popping a painkiller or two, eating frequent snacks to keep your blood sugar level up and getting plenty of sleep, if your headaches are severe and occurring because of low oestrogen, there are hormonal treatments available to help.
"Using oestrogen for around seven days, usually as a gel, and starting just before your period arrives, can replace the low levels of oestrogen and often really improve symptoms. Some women find that taking the contraceptive pill continuously rather than having a break every month, can help,” says Dr Newson.
She adds: "Women who are perimenopausal and menopausal often find that their headaches really improve by taking HRT. When HRT is started in women under 60 years, the benefits of HRT outweigh any risks."