PCOS & Migraine: A Largely Unexplored Comorbid Relationship

Last updated: February 2013

Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) is a condition occurring in women, which is characterized by a wide ranging set of symptoms, including:

  • infrequent or irregular periods
  • infertility / inability to ovulate (PCOS is the most common cause of infertility)
  • ovarian cysts
  • weight gain
  • thinning hair
  • hair growth on face, chest, stomach, back, etc.
  • depression and/or anxiety
  • acne

By some estimates five million American women are living with PCOS.

Researchers believe PCOS is rooted in hormonal imbalance and insulin resistance. The ovaries of women living with PCOS make more male hormones than those of other women, which affects the ability of the ovaries to release eggs. Many women with PCOS have too much insulin in their bodies because their bodies don't efficiently use it, which encourages the pancreas to produce more and more to try to meet the body's needs. Researchers believe it is the presence of this excess insulin that leads to the production of too many male hormones in the bodies of women living with PCOS.

A genetic predisposition for PCOS is likely because women with PCOS are more likely than other women to have a mother or sister who also has PCOS.

We don't know as much as we'd like about the connection between PCOS and migraine. However, we do know that many people living with migraine also live with insulin resistance.

Despite the fact that almost no research has been done on the connection between PCOS and migraine, if you spend any time on a PCOS message board you'll quickly see an alarming trend: Many, many women living with PCOS also live with unrelenting migraine attacks. And often when one problem starts to get better, the other does, too.

In researching for this article I found exactly one research study on the possible relationship between migraine and PCOS. It was a poorly constructed study with a tiny sample size. Further, it didn't even look at a possible overlap between migraine and PCOS, instead focusing on the vague term headache and PCOS. Needless to say, it didn't give us any useful information.

We desperately need more research about the possible relationship between PCOS and migraine. Knowing more about where the conditions overlap could be incredibly helpful in learning more about what happens in each condition individually and would help us get the right treatment for women living with both conditions.

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