If you’re getting terrible headaches during your period, rest assured, this is a normal phenomenon that you may experience partially due to the decline of the hormone estrogen before menstruation.
Research shows that more than 50% of women who get a migraine in their lifetime relate it to their period. The risk of a migraine rises 25% in the five days leading up to menstruation. This risk increases to 71% in the two days before, and then it’s highest on the first day of menstruation and for two days after.
Hormonal headaches can occur either during pregnancy, perimenopause and menopause. Let’s have a closer look as to why a period headache happens and how it can be alleviated.
Table of Contents
Period Headache or Migraine?
Migraine is a subset of headache and are more painful as they cause intense throbbing pain. They usually happen on one side of your head. Migraines are typically divided into two categories; “with aura” or “without aura.”
Classic (with Aura) Migraine Symptoms
The symptoms for migraine with aura (classic migraine) include:
- Changes in vision or loss of vision
- Flashes of light
- Usual changes in touch, smell and taste
- Numbness in the face and hands
- Tingling sensations in the face and hands
- Seeing unusual lines
- Having a hard time thinking
Migraine without Aura Symptoms
The symptoms for migraine without aura include:
- Sensitivity to sound and light
- Pain behind one ear and one eye
- A short loss of vision
- Pain in one or both temples
- Seeing spots
- Seeing flashes of light
Common Headache Symptoms
Common headaches are less painful than migraines and are not followed by an aura. Different kinds of headaches include:
- Sinus headaches may include symptoms of nasal congestion, facial pressure, and severe pain. They can also occur with a sinus infection at times.
- Tension headaches are caused by high levels of stress and anxiety. They can also be caused by muscle strain or tension.
- Cluster headaches have certain symptoms that allow them to be mistaken for migraines like causing pain on one side of the head. Other symptoms include a running nose, watery eye, or nasal congestion.
Learn More about Headaches During My Period
How Hormones Affect Migraines
Migraines or normal headaches may occur due to irregular hormone levels, but they can also be caused by medications such as birth control pills.
Perimenopause and Menopause
During perimenopause, a drop in the levels of estrogen and progesterone can cause migraines. Perimenopause can occur 4 years before menopause on average, or perhaps even early as 8 or 10 years.
Women can also get migraines from hormone replacement therapy. If this is the case for you, consider the estrogen patch over other options because it can you a low, steady dose of estrogen and may help to prevent the drop of this hormone that often results in headaches.
Headaches During Period
“I get headaches during my period!”
It’s not uncommon that people get a period headaches.
Women suffer from migraines three times more than men and 60% of them get menstrual migraines. This usually occurs about two days before the start of menstruation or three days after it ends.
Even though migraines can occur when girls get their first period, they can occur at any time. They can last from reproductive years up until menopause.
These headaches are usually related to changing hormone levels.
Pregnancy and Headaches
Hormone headaches occurring during pregnancy are very common during the first trimester. This is due to the rise in hormone levels and blood volume.
Common headaches are experienced during this phase, which are caused by poor posture, dehydration and caffeine withdrawal.
What Causes Terrible Headaches During your Period?
What Other Causes Are There For Migraines?
Some risk factors that lead to a possible development of migraines include age and family history. But you’re already at risk for simply being a woman.
And while there is no way to control your family tree, gender or age, it would be wise of you to keep a migraine diary with you. You can use it to pinpoint and effectively avoid certain triggers such as:
- Alcohol consumption
- Terrible sleeping habits
- Drinking copious amounts of caffeinated drinks
- Eating high-in-tyramine foods, like avocado, cured or smoked meat and cheese, smoked fish, banana, dried fruit, any kind of aged food or chocolate.
- Exposure to extreme weather condition or fluctuation.
- Inhaling potent odors from cleaning products, pollution, perfume, chemicals and car exhaust.
- Exposure to intense levels of sound and light.
- Taking in chemical additives like monosodium glutamate (MSG).
- Missing meals
- Consuming artificial sweeteners
How To Diagnose Migraines
Go visit your doctor and they will perform a physical examination and ask about your family history in order to determine any underlying conditions. If anything besides hormonal fluctuation is causing your migraines, then you doctor may ask you to undergo additional tests such as:
- A CT scan
- An MRI scan
- A blood test
- A spinal tap or lumbar puncture
Ways To Prevent Headache Pain
If you suffer from migraines, there are a few different things you can do to prevent them. They include the following options.
Prescription Drugs for a Period Headache
Several prescription drugs can help relieve you of migraines, including:
- Ergotamine drugs
- Calcium channel blockers
- OnabotulinumtoxinA (Botox)
- CGRP antagonists
Over-the-Counter (OTC) Drugs
Over-the-counter pain medications such as ibuprofen (Advil, Midol) can be recommended by your doctors. You could be advised to take them before the start of your migraines. If you have high levels of sodium during your physical exam, you may also be recommended to try a diuretic.
Natural Remedies for Headache During Period
There are certain natural vitamins and supplements that can alleviate migraines caused by hormones such as :
- coenzyme Q10
- vitamin B-2, or riboflavin
There are also some people who swear by the following home remedies to relieve their bad headache during period:
- Diet (one suggestion is to eliminate gluten, alcohol, sugar, fermented and cured foods)
- Hydration (try drinking at least 3L of water a day at the time you’re most prone to headaches)
- Caffeine (it can sometimes make a headache better, but it can also make it worse. See what works for you, and start small!)
- Headband around the head (a solution from ancient times)
- Peppermint oil (rub it on the part of your head that hurts)
You can try some stress-relieving exercises that can be good for you mentally and spiritually. Practice yoga or meditation right after waking up in the morning or before you go to bed. You can also opt for deep breathing exercises during difficult scenarios.
Exercise for Headache During Period
Regular physical exercises can also help relieve you of migraines caused by hormones. Using the wrong kind of exercises can worsen your headaches. It is wise to eat a high-protein meal, stay hydrated and warm up your muscles before exercise in order to get the best migraine-reducing results.
Hormonal Contraception Methods for a Headache on Period
Do you suffer from terrible headaches during, or right before/after your period? You may want to talk to your doctor about some of the hormonal contraception methods. They can help to regulate the reproductive hormones that sometimes cause headaches.
Hormonal contraception treatments such as vaginal rings, birth control pills or patches can play a significant role in reducing the frequency and severity of menstrual related migraines. This can be done by lessening the drop of estrogen levels associated with menstrual periods.
Some women prefer hormonal contraception after previous methods failed to show any true effective results. But there can also be cases for when women experience migraines during hormonal contraception. If that happens, then talk to your doctor.
Switch Birth Control?
The pill can actually make migraines worse for some people, particularly the ones where estrogen is steady for three weeks and then you take a placebo pill for a week in order to menstruate. During this week, there’s a serious decline in estrogen which can result in headaches.
If this is the case for you, your doctor may recommend birth control that contains low amounts of estrogen, or only progesterone.
There is some evidence that salt plays a role in headaches. If you find that you get a headache on the first day of your period each month for example, limit salt a couple of days before, and after that.
Keep a Diary of Headaches with Period
It can be really helpful for your doctor if you keep a diary about your headaches during your period. Note the timing of your headaches, and your period. Also note what action you took to prevent or treat a headache and the result.
If you notice a pattern, you can work with your doctor to help prevent the period headache in the first place. For example, perhaps you get a headache exactly two days before your period begins.
Another example is if you get a headache every single month that you have your period. This often happens with the drop in Estrogen. Your doctor may suggest a birth control option where you don’t get your period in order to keep your Estrogen levels higher.
Even if there is no pattern in your headaches, it can be helpful to know how serious the problem is by the frequency of them. Or, whether or not certain over the counter medications work for you, or not.
Menstrual Migraines and What to Do about Them
I Have a Period Headache: What Should I Do!
Okay, so you’ve tried some of the headache during period prevention tips, but it’s your period and you have a headache. What are some things you can do to deal with it? Let’s find out some tips from the Mayo Clinic:
Wrap an ice pack in a towel to protect your skin and then place it on the part of your head that hurts.
Try some relaxation techniques such as yoga or deep breathing.
Over the Counter Pain Killers
NSAIDs, Naproxen or Ibuprofen make help to relieve headache pain. Experiment and see which one works best for you. The key is to take them as soon as you can feel a headache starting, not once it’s well underway.
There are also prescription pain killers that you may want to talk to your doctor about
Talk to your doctor about using Triptans to relieve period headache pain. They work by blocking pain signals in your brain and can often help to get a serious headache under control within two hours.
This is a device that stimulates the vagus nerve, which may help to relieve headaches during periods. You place in on a certain spot on your neck. In the USA, it’s only available by prescription so please check in with your doctor.
Dim the Lights
Many people find that bright lights make their headache worse. Go to a darker room if possible, and stop staring at a computer screen.
Ease the Pressure on your Head
If you have a tight ponytail, or baseball hat, take it out/off.
Chewing something like gum can make your jaw ache, and your head as well. Avoid this as much as possible when you have a period headache.
Can Tampons Cause Headaches?
A common question is whether or not tampons can cause headaches. In general, probably not.
However, there are many brands of tampons that do contain trace amounts of toxins in them. These toxic chemicals come from the bleaching process during manufacturing, as well as from the pesticides used to grow the cotton.
Toxic Shock Syndrome and Headaches
Besides that, one of the symptoms of Toxic Shock Syndrome is a headache. Some of the other ones are:
- Muscle aches
If you notice any of these things and are wearing a tampon, take it out immediately. Then, seek medical attention as soon as possible. TSS is a life-threatening condition that requires immediate treatment.
What about a Menstrual Cup Headache?
Okay, so instead of tampons, you maybe use a menstrual cup. What if you’re also experiencing terrible headaches during your period. Can a menstrual cup be the cause of this? Let’s find out.
In general, menstrual cups do not cause period headaches. This is because unlike tampons, they contain no toxic chemicals in them. And, they also come with a lower risk of TSS so that is not a likely cause either.
The most likely cause of a period headache is something else such as fluctuating hormones.
Let’s Sum It Up: Terrible Headaches During your Period
All in all, it is crucial to isolate the triggers to your migraines and try out various medications, methods and treatments in order to prevent or reduce the severity of your migraines. If OTC medications are not doing it for you, then you have to make an appointment with your doctor. They can suggest other options to treat to reduce your symptoms.
If you suffer from terrible headaches during your period, have a visit with your doctor. There are usually lots of options for regulating your reproductive hormones.
What about Headaches after My Period?
Okay, so instead of getting terrible headaches during your period, you get them after. There are a number of reasons why you might get a headache that have nothing to do with your menstrual cycle. They include: dehydration, stress, genetic or dietary triggers.
However, if you consistently get headaches after your period, it may be related to hormonal imbalances or low iron levels. We’ll talk about both of them in turn.
During your cycle, hormone levels fluctuate wildly. However, it’s not totally random and there is certainly a pattern to it.
Changing levels of estrogen and progesterone can trigger headaches for some people. You may be particularly sensitive to an increase, or drop in one of these, which is what may cause a headache at a certain time of your cycle.
Low Iron Levels
Most people lose around 30 ml of menstrual fluid during their cycle, a part of which is blood. However, some people may experience extremely heavy bleeding, known an Hypermenorrhia. They can lose 80 ml or even more. Losing this much blood may cause your iron levels to dip, especially if you’re a vegan or vegetarian.
Low iron levels can result in headaches, as well as dizziness, fatigue, etc. Check in with your doctor if you experience this. It’s diagnosed with a simple blood test.
Period Headaches: Have your Say!
Do you suffer from migraines, or other kinds of headaches during your period, or just before/after it? Leave a comment below and let us know what has worked for you in preventing them.