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Hormonal Changes

Hormones, the powerful chemicals that send signals throughout the body, play a large role in women with migraines. Hormones serve as migraine triggers in numerous stages of hormonal activity throughout a woman’s menstrual cycle and throughout her life.

Women experience hormonal changes when they:

  • first begin menstruating
  • begin their monthly menstrual cycle
  • end their monthly menstrual cycle
  • take oral or other hormonal contraceptives
  • are pregnant
  • post-partum
  • first enter menopause
  • take any form of hormone therapy
  • are further along in menopause

Since migraines and hormones are related and because women have several fluctuations in hormones, it’s no wonder that some 70 percent of migraine sufferers are women. Migraines can be triggered by or made worse by the hormonal changes a woman experiences. Studies show that women complain of more severe head pain, migraines that last longer and cause more disability than men with migraines.

What causes migraines in women

Changes in the hormone estrogen are thought to trigger reactions in the brain the lead to migraines in women. The amount of estrogen circulating in a woman’s drops right before the start of the monthly menstrual cycle. Some women have migraines that are closely tied to their period. These are called menstrual migraines. They usually occur right before or in the very first days of the menstrual cycle and improve after menopause. In one study, 62 percent of women reported that their migraine symptoms improved after they stopped having their monthly menstrual cycle. However in 18 percent in that study said the migraines got worse.

Pregnant women and migraines

Pregnancy offers a reprieve for most women who suffer from migraines. Because estrogen levels gradually rise during pregnancy, many women say their migraine symptoms improve. However, after the pregnancy ends, when the hormone levels drop suddenly, the migraine symptoms can return immediately.

How to prevent hormonal migraines

Keeping a migraine journal will help you discover when during your cycle the migraines occur. For some women, taking an over-the-counter or prescription pain reliever a few days before the start of their menstrual cycle helps prevent the migraine attack. Consulting a migraine expert will help determine what’s best for your migraines.


Written by: Otesa Miles | Last review date: November 2010
Management of Menstrual Migraine; The Neurologist; Mannix 2003