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Triggers and Causes

Newbie. Migraines = caused my hormones and my other symptoms?

  • By AmandaBerlin

    Hi all,

    I never thought I’d have migraines, I’m completely new to this. I had the first in February sometime – a migraine with aura and a light/almost non-existent headache afterwards. I shrugged it off. In March, I had migraine with aura twice. The second time I went to the GP, who sent me off to the eye doctors… but in between eye doctor appointments I had another one (Sunday evening) and ended up in the ER to try and figure out what the heck is going on. It’s scary because I have never, ever had these in my whole life. They are the “classic” migraines with auras… visual – zigzag/wavy colored lines, some blind spots, it all lasts no longer than 15-30 minutes. A light headache occurs afterwards, this Sunday I felt like I had a massive hangover and was exhausted. I had some lingering side effects (light headache) on/off for another 1.5 days or so. In each case I took ibuprofen, although this past time I messed up and forgot until too late, so that’s probably why the effects lasted longer.

    Doctors in ER only looked at my eyes and diagnosed without taking any MRIs. They suggested a follow up with a neurologist in the future. I was a bit confused as since I have no history of migraines that I should get an MRI. In any case – that’s an issue for the diagnosis board…

    I’ve discovered the main trigger (massive light changes – direct sunlight to shade, etc), but now I’m searching for causes. I think it might be hormonal. Let me explain: I had my daughter in March of last year and breastfed for 6 months; I didn’t start getting my period back until late fall, and this winter it was horrible. I never used to get PMS or have heavy periods, at least not as an adult, now I get both. (This winter I had two serious sinus infections, one minor cold, and the flu — but while I was sick constantly, my husband never caught these.) I have also gotten some acne on the forehead, my hair is thinning at the temples big time. I become super anxious (honestly, like out of control craziness…) and get tired but I can’t sleep from the anxiety — mostly for about two weeks mid-cycle, and not because of my daughter! (My mother and mother-in-law have been helping me out a lot over the last half year, so I have adequate sleep many nights or I take a solid nap during the day.) When my period starts I suddenly am no longer anxious and feel like a truck ran over me and I bleed a lot very quickly. I had the third migraine a day or two into my last period and I’m fairly certain it was because I felt so weak to the point of fatigue and almost passing out. I slept 3-4 days in a row for like 11 hours each!! I immediately went and bought iron supplements and multivitamin to give me a boost. Finally, I feel like I’m always eating and am never full for very long, but I’m also not really gaining weight, just staying about the same. My usual diet + exercise routine hasn’t changed much. I’m a vegetarian and I do 3-4 times per week of jogging ~30-40 minutes + 2-3 yoga sessions.

    Not sure it’s related, I also have frequent urination and often have cold hands and feet… neither of those is that new, however.

    I haven’t been back to the doctor yet because I’ve been to several and none seem to tell me anything beyond “you have migraines, take an ibuprofen” and “your blood work was normal, you’re not anemic and you don’t have abnormal blood sugar levels.” I am going to my gynecologist in about 3 weeks to ask her to look at my hormone levels. But I wanted to see on here if anyone else has experience migraines directly related to crazy, fluctuating hormone levels. I believe the one I just had occurred on an ovulation day, the last one right after my period started. But without a history of these migraines, I can’t say for certain.

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  • By Nancy Harris Bonk Moderator

    Hi 3n3l8o,

    I’m sorry you are having a difficult time. Migraine can be frustrating, exhausting and isolating. Let’s see what information I can provide you with to help.

    Migraine is thought to be a genetic neurological disorder. The most current theories, backed by research, show it to be caused by genetics and a cascade of events that impact our overly excitable neurons. Once our overly sensitive brains are triggered by certain stimuli such as changes in the weather, hormones, dehydration, sleep issues, and certain foods, and others, an attack may occur. If we can identify our triggers and learn to avoid them, we may be able to reduce our attack frequency and severity. Let me share information on triggers with you; https://migraine.com/blog/migraine-management-essential-trigger-management/.

    Speaking of triggers, keeping a detailed migraine diary is a good tool to use to figure out what our triggers are and if we have any patterns to our attacks. There are so many migraine/headache apps now, keeping a detailed diary is easier than ever. Migraine.com has one called the Migraine Meter you can look at there; https://migraine.com/blog/new-migraine-meter-app-available-on-itunes-and-google-play-for-android/.

    Seeing there is a genetic component to migraine, are there an family members who may have had migraine and/or headache? People may not realize they have migraine, as migraine can include less severe pain and not everyone needs to be in a dark room during an attack or have nausea. Another thing that can complicate matters are the symptoms that go along with an attack. Facial pain, eye and sinus pain, neck pain and many others can be part of a migraine attack. In fact many people who think they have a sinus infection or issue, really have migraine. Take a look at this information when you get a chance; https://migraine.com/blog/sinus-headache-or-migraine/.

    If you find your attacks are triggered by menses, you may want to discuss using Frova which is a triptan (medication that stops the migraine process) to prevent them. When you get a moment take a loot at this information; https://migraine.com/blog/short-term-option-for-migraine-prevention-frova/.

    I hope I’m not overwhelming you with too much information. After you read it all, please let me know if you have any questions I can help you with.

    Nancy

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  • By AmandaBerlin

    Hi Nancy,

    Thanks for your response, and I apologize that I didn’t see it until just now. I thought I had checked off the box to be informed of a response, but I never got an email.

    Since my first post I had another “migraine with aura” that was really an aura. I took an ibuprofen, then following the aura I had chills /involuntary shaking for 5-8 minutes (maybe a panic attack?), but then basically no headache (but I did feel a bit out of sorts). I went to the hospital (different one from before) as that was the 5th episode. (The trigger, I’m fairly certain, was simply a long, stressful day that included travel and, upon arrival at our destination, discovering that my daughter’s stroller was broken in transit.) At this hospital they did a basic neurological test, heart test (ECG), urine test (I guess to check my thyroid? not sure), did a CT scan (they said they saw nothing but recommended an MRI with injected fluid as a follow-up), and asked me a lot of questions. They told me I should follow up with a neurologist after the MRI. They also said it was better to wait until I spoke with a neurologist and did the MRI before doing blood work. So, I don’t yet know whether this is “migraines” or something else, I guess.

    As for the sinus infections, funnily enough I have not really gotten many headaches from them, they always seem to be diagnosed based on length of the snot + postnasal drip I have. I was told by an ENT doctor this winter that the cause of those infections is my narrow, deviated septum.

    I have tracked the last 4 attacks on my calendar in the hopes I can see whether or not they occur as related to my monthly cycles… so far it’s hard to tell. I did look at the signs of low progesterone and cortisol online and I have a lot of them… I definitely get severe anxiety/tension and have panic attacks before and during my period. I noticed last month that towards the end of my period these two things seem to disappear. However, whether or not they later cause the migraines with aura – I’m not really sure since they occur on different days. Perhaps it’s residual? I have an OB-GYN visit scheduled for next Tuesday, in the meantime I’m going to schedule a visit with a GP to discuss the hospital report and hopefully get a referral to a neurologist. But if I have another attack before then I might just go to the local hospital — since I’m now back at home — and see if they can order me an MRI with injection right away.

    Thanks for the diary link! I will get one of those. And thanks again for writing back.
    ~Amanda

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  • By AmandaBerlin

    Hi everyone, I have some updates re: tests and what not, but still no official diagnosis… I hope that’s coming from the neurologist soon. Booking all these specialist appointments and scans takes such a long time.

    Since I wrote in April, I’ve been to see the neurologist and done blood work, had severe enough IBS issues to warrant a colonoscopy (it was clear, thankfully), a stool sample taken (no results yet, coming this week I hope), abdominal scan (also clear), an endocrinologist for thyroid and blood work (low Vitamin D and low iron counts), and an MRI this past week (also clear). I went to see the ENT on Monday because I got yet another cold/sinus infection with postnasal drip last week and am still waking up with postnasal drip/dry throat every morning. I did a CT scan of my sinuses and nasal cavity and should have the results tomorrow, also need to make another appt with the neurologist to discuss next steps with the migraines with aura. Also, my OB-GYN didn’t find anything out of the ordinary when I saw her in April, although she refused to do hormone testing for me because she says I’m too young and “don’t want kids” (apparently that is her policy, which pisses me off… might go for a second opinion whether or not insurance covers it!).

    I am seeing a physiotherapist and masseuse fairly regularly (at least once per week for one or the other) as I’ve also had neck/shoulder/back aches and some strange breathing issues related to the left side of the rib cage. (This has bothered me mostly when I’ve been out running but also when taking deep breaths – it feels like the muscles on the rib cage are pulled and a diaphragm issue?) In any case… the neck pain was also causing tension headaches at the base of my skull on occasion, but those have subsided. Both the physio and masseuse told me that carrying my daughter probably causes a postural issue that then radiates through the back, neck, and the skull. I do feel better than a month or two ago in those areas, so I’m inclined to believe them.

    Meanwhile, however, I’ve had another few more “silent” with aura (no headaches) episodes (count is up to 8 now I think), two of which I had chills/shivers afterwards. At least twice I had facial pressure/sinus headaches (likely also a migraine, thanks for the info above on that — so I guess it is possible to have migraines with aura sometimes and other times have no aura but get the headaches?). Anyways, the non-aura ones do seem to be hormone related as they occur 1-3 days before my period and not at other times. So now I’m thinking there is a strong link of those to my monthly cycles. With the visual aura, however, those almost always occur after light changes and I feel especially sensitive to sunlight. I’ve been wearing sunglasses and a cap everywhere I go when the sun is out. Another time I had one was after having to get up early and give blood before I had breakfast… I got the aura immediately when I got home and had just sat down to eat something.

    Sorry for the long post, but I will keep posting on here in the hopes that I help someone else out, too. I still don’t know the actual cause of my migraines, but after all these tests it’s looking more and more like it’s related to hormonal imbalances after having a child. Since I have no history of migraines or headaches I can’t otherwise think of why they would suddenly start now. If anyone else has had migraines specifically related to postpartum and/or hormonal imbalances that do not follow your monthly cycle precisely, would be nice to hear how you’ve managed it…

    Amanda

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  • By CallMeTrish

    You mentioned that the MD said your iron levels are normal. There is some evidence in the literature that the current normal range for ferritin (12-150 ng/mL) is not right, and it should be 50 – 150 ng/mL – a Google Scholar search will pull of the literature, and the Iron Disorders Institute has a fact sheet out from 2010 called “Ferritin: an important part of the iron panel.” that proposes the new range.

    I mention it because I’m currently working with my MD to raise my ferritin levels from 27, and using iron bisglycinate – a gentle and effective form of iron supplement. I also mention it because hair loss is mentioned in the literature as a cause of ferritin being lower than 50 ng/mL. Giving birth and heavy periods are key drains on your iron – you may not be anemic, but you may be deficient enough to cause side effects none-the-less.

    I’m not a professional – this is just conjecture based on my own personal research. Hope this helps a bit.

    Good luck,
    Trish.

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  • By AmandaBerlin

    Hi Trish,

    Thanks so much for your response! I think you’re probably right. I finally got my blood results back from a full thyroid panel + vitamin tests I had done at the endocrinologist in late May. I had spoken to him on the phone but did not have exact values, so I requested a copy last week to see exact values and just got it. I will post some of this on here in the hopes that you or someone else can help me out. … There are only the values that triggered a special asterisk/note in the column (the comma instead of period is because this was done in Germany):

    Ferritin: 18,7 ng/ml (below recommendation)
    25 (OH) Vit. D3: 16,4 ng/ml (below recommendation)
    LH: 33,7 mU/ml (above recommendation)
    FSH: 18,8 mU/ml (above recommendation)
    Phosphat: 2,20 mg/dl (below recommendation)

    The only thing I was told to do? I kid you not – “Get more sun” to which I said “that triggers my migraines.” So I got told to take Vitamin D3 supplements. Ho-hum! Unhelpful as usual. ….

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  • By tammay

    I’m speaking as a total amateur here, but it wouldn’t surprise me if hormones might have something to do with it. I posted not long ago that my migraine cycles have also changed in the last 6 months so that I usually don’t get migraines (the really bad ones, that is) now except for a day or so into my period. Then, the migraine episode lasts until the end of my period and it can get very bad. I know this has to do with hormones because it only comes during my menses. I’m 45, which might also account for it (i.e., age). I’ve done some research and I have seen some suggestions of taking OTC medication (like Advil or Aleve) when PMS comes and your know your cycle is to start a week beforehand and that helps sometimes but haven’t yet tried it.

    Tam

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  • By menopausalmigraineur

    Hormones have an effect on migraines and can be one of the triggers. I’m 53 and when I first started getting migraines just before puberty hit it had been well established. I can’t believe its been forgotten in 45 years. ;p My “classic migraines with aura” were well under control and had been tracked with a migraine diary so I knew a grew many of the foods, situations and other things that might trigger a migraine and what made it worse after onset.

    BUT the part that applies to you…I had never been effected by my menses and I experienced truly horrible ones with cramps, bloating, and bleeding heavily the whole 7 days…but no connection to my migraines.

    That was to change dramatically when I got pregnant with my first child. I started getting cluster headaches with aura two or three times a week. Then, thinking it couldn’t get worse, and boy was I wrong, I had my second child 18months after the first. My cluster headaches went to everyday. I started getting daily chronic cluster migraines with aura pretty much every day. I was in fugue state constantly and am in fugue state. My body is constantly teetered on the edge of the migraine precipice just waiting for a trigger. So I would say that the underlying shift of hormones in my body with pregnancy changed my body chemistry and the way my body deals with migraines. They are currently studying epigenetic marker tags on DNA being unlocked by differing life events and so having it become effective, or not in people’s lives. They see this with diabetes and other “inherited” diseases. The doctors held out the hope to me that menopause might turn off whatever hormones had been turned on and made the migraines change. But if the newer genetic research my college age daughter fills my ear with is more to the point. Once the marker is turned on by the genetic event, it can’t be turned off. We then need to cope.

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