Migraine Triggers: My Period

I wish I could tell my middle school self how lucky I was to be a late bloomer.

These days, girls are getting their periods at 10 or 11 (something that was discussed at the June National Headache Foundation meeting in Chicago); in the early 1990s, I had to wait til I was 14.5. My period came later than most of my friends’, and once I realized I was the last in the line, I made no effort to announce to my girlfriends that I was still not a woman—officially speaking.

Though my first migraine attack came at age 13 (that’s my best guess), as I recall the episodes didn’t get more frequent until my period was a part of my life. I now consider myself lucky to not have gotten it younger—who knows when the menarche-related migraines would’ve begun?

To this day, I have some pretty obnoxious periods. Here’s where the TMI starts—feel free to tune me out, especially if you’re squeamish. My periods last a full week, complete with crampy spotting a couple of days before the “real” period sets in. My periods are heavy and painful; cramps have gotten worse over the last few years. I also started experiencing ovulation cramps since hitting 30—doctors call this by a word that is gross enough to fit the phenomenon well: mittelschmerz.

My period is one of those migraine triggers I cannot avoid. Two days before my period starts, the migraine—if left to its own devices—starts in. Without treatment (or if I’m already in the middle of a really rough migraine flare-up), the migraine can last over a week. Recently I’ve decided to pick up a preventive regimen I’d let fall by the wayside—I take approximately 500 mg of naproxen sodium (Aleve) beginning two days before the start of my regular menstrual-related migraine and continue taking the naproxen every 12 hours until the period is over. More often than not, the migraine shows up at the very end of the period, but at least by then the cramps have subsided. At least there’s some sign that what I’m doing is affecting my body in a positive way, at least for a few days.

I also try to be very careful around my period when it comes to other triggers. I pay special attention to my sleep regimen — I try to resist invitations to stay up late (even if it means watching just one more Dexter episode with Jim on the couch) and say no to alcohol. When I’m able, I make strong attempts to make my smoothie and take my daily vitamins—both of these elements build up my system and make it harder for the attack to come on. In theory I should be having the smoothie and vitamin regimen daily, but I often skip. It’s important for me to remember to incorporate any preventive, healthy measures I can.

Here’s a question for those of you with menstrual-related migraine or menstrual migraine: how do you cope with this monthly problem? Any tricks that work for you?

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