female torso holding water bottle on abdomen surrounded by teabag, sneaker, water glass, and bottle of OTC pills.

Migraine and Menstruation

There are few things I dread more than being confined to my bed, exhausted and unable to get up and do what I need or want to do. This is an especially dreadful experience when coupled with pain. Unfortunately, due to chronic migraines, this is an experience that awaits me often, especially during the warmer months of the year. At least a few days a week, I find myself canceling on commitments or altering my days because I am not well enough to carry out my previously set plans fully or at all, or I find myself pushing my limits to exhaustion and further ailment when I can't afford to give in to migraine. Neither are pretty experiences. What’s worse than the fact that migraine steals so much time in general, is that at least once a month, I can count on a worsened experience due to hormones.

Being stuck in bed with horrible nausea and throbbing head pain is an experience many in the community are all too familiar with. For some, debilitating cramps and heightened sensitivity during menstruation added into the mix makes for some seriously, excruciatingly painful days. Usually for me, from a few days before menstruating, until a couple of days after, my head is throbbing non-stop. My body feels extremely tingly and the nausea and cramping leaves me aching and sluggish. It can be a difficult experience to have happen so often.

Monthly migraine mayhem

Interestingly, I’ve found that the pain I experience with migraine when menstruating is distinct from my usual experience of migraine. For some reason, my sinuses and the pain behind my eyes seems much more pronounced during menstruation. The nausea that usually couples my other migraine symptoms also feels ...well, weird… I think because it becomes difficult to distinguish between cramp-like pain and nausea. I teeter between feeling like I am going to throw up, and feeling sharp twisting pains in my abdomen during this time. Oy, it’s no wonder getting out of the bed seems impossible at times during menstruation.

Unfair misunderstandings

One thing that frustrates me to no end are the misunderstandings that accompany migraine. First, there is the misconception that migraine is ‘just a headache’ (newsflash, it is far from it!). Misunderstandings compound when menstruation enters the conversation. For one, it seems historically that what is considered ‘feminine’ pain is also considered more frivolous and less serious for some reason, so pain associated with menstruating seems to be taken less seriously than other pain. For many folks who do menstruate, it is clear that the pains involved with that experience, even if unaccompanied my migraine, can be debilitating.

My migraine menstruation survival checklist

This monthly pain can be a real dull. Here are a few things I make sure to keep close by in general, but especially when I know my hormones are going to be roller-coastering.

  • Ice Pack: This one is a given for me. Not only do I find cold therapy (and warm therapy depending on the pain and location of that pain) essential for managing migraine, I also find that during menstruation, sometimes it is the only thing that offers any kind of relief.
  • Tea:Caffeine tends to help with my migraines, but I can’t drink coffee, it gives me horrible stomach pain. To help with cramping, nausea, and to feel soothed, I keep my favorite teas stocked. Tea also helps me fight off some of the sluggishness I feel during this time.
  • Walking: So this one isn’t really a ‘thing’ I keep on hand, so much as a tool I use to help ease some of the pain of cramping away during menstruation. Sometimes for me, working to alleviate other areas of pain helps in dealing with migraine, because that relief means dealing with less pain overall. When I am in a lot of pain but able to get up from bed, taking a brief stroll can help me feel a little bit better.
  • OTC Migraine Medication: The pain level and frequency with which I experience migraine during menstruation is often times much more pronounced than during other times of the month. I consequently find myself turning to OTC medication to try to ease away some of the pain to supplement my daily medication.

Do you experience worsening migraine symptoms during menstruation? What do you do in order to ease the pain? Let’s discuss in the comments!

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