Many women experience headaches during their monthly cycle and scientists believe that it's due to changing hormone levels. Tension headaches, hormonal headaches, and menstrual migraines are the most common forms of period headaches.
But while fluctuating hormones are the most likely cause, symptoms vary for each headache.
Read on to learn about the differences of each type of headache, what provides period headache relief, and how to treat menstrual migraines naturally.
Period or Hormonal Headaches
Period headaches, also known as hormonal headaches are believed to be directly related to the fluctuations of the hormones estrogen and progesterone during the menstrual cycle.
Hormonal headaches can occur before, during, or after menstruation, and some women may experience more frequent hormonal headaches during perimenopause and menopause too.
Hormonal headaches are usually mild, presenting as a moderate pain on both sides of the head. These headaches can be unpleasant, but they are generally not severe enough to interfere with your daily activities.
Additional symptoms of a hormonal headache include mood swings, muscle pain, fatigue, food cravings for carbohydrates and chocolate, and constipation or diarrhea.
According to research, roughly 60% of women suffer from menstrual migraines, which can last anywhere from one to five days. Researchers also believe that women who regularly experience migraines outside of the menstrual cycle are more susceptible to menstrual migraines.
Triggered by fluctuations of hormones, menstrual migraines are usually felt on one side of the head, although they are also known to start on one side and spread to the other. The debilitating pain associated with menstrual migraines can be so severe that some women may find it difficult to keep their eyes open or function as usual.
Menstrual migraines can differ from regular migraines in that they might not necessarily start with an aura. An aura, which is typically associated with the onset of a regular migraine is a sensory reaction that produces the sensation of flashing lights and zigzag lines in the eyes. Depending on the person, a menstrual migraine may or may not start with an aura.
Additional symptoms associated with a menstrual migraine include mood swings, muscle pain, fatigue, food cravings, and constipation or diarrhea. However, more severe symptoms like sensitivity to bright lights and sound, as well as nausea, and sometimes vomiting can also occur.
Menstrually Related Migraines
While a menstrual migraine typically attacks during the monthly cycle, the term Menstrually Related Migraine is used to describe migraines that attack women during other times of the month, as well as during their monthly cycle.
According to research, the majority of women who suffer from migraines during menstruation also have regular migraine attacks at other times. This means that although the fluctuation of the female hormones acts as a trigger for these women, other triggers can cause migraines outside of the monthly cycle.
How to Treat Menstrual Migraines or Relieve Period Headaches
Although doctors might prescribe pain medication or anti-inflammatories to relieve hormonal headaches and treat menstrual migraines, there are also a few natural ways to reduce the pain and symptoms.
Regular Aerobic Exercise
To prevent menstrual migraines, regular aerobic exercise has been proven to be a valid option for those who prefer natural remedies over medicinal drugs. A recent study found that regular aerobic exercise, at least three times a week, reduced the frequency of menstrual migraines just as well as drugs prescribed by doctors.
Another excellent preventative measure is a herbal remedy called Chasteberry. Also known as Vitex Agnus Castus, women’s health practitioners widely recommend a chasteberry supplement such as the Chasteberry/Vitex Supplement from Intimate Rose to treat conditions associated with the female reproductive system, including hormonal headaches and menstrual migraines.
In one scientific study, for example, 42% of women who were experiencing regular PMS migraines reported a 66% reduction in headaches after taking a daily chasteberry supplement for three months.
A regular intake of foods rich in vitamin B-2 and magnesium is also known to prevent and reduce symptoms linked to hormonal headaches and menstrual migraines. Vitamin B-2 and magnesium can also be ingested in supplement form, however, if you are taking other medications, it is recommended to consult with a doctor beforehand.
A lack of sleep before or during menstruation can make headaches and migraines a lot more severe so those who suffer from them should try for 7-9 hours of sound sleep per night. Stick to a regular bedtime, cease screen time an hour before bed, and ensure your sleeping environment is as comfortable as possible to allow for a full night’s sleep.
Cold therapy is well known to reduce inflammation and relieve pain, and it works well as a treatment for hormonal headaches and menstrual migraines too. Apply an ice pack, wrapped in a towel to prevent ice burn, around the head for approximately 10 minutes, and then take it off for 10 minutes. Alternating the application of cold therapy for 10 minutes at a time will help relieve hormonal headaches and menstrual migraines.
Renowned for reducing tension, a massage of the head and shoulder area, can help to reduce the pain associated with period headaches and menstrual migraines.
Relaxing Meditation & Yoga
The conscious breathing and light movement associated with meditation and yoga can help to regulate blood pressure and the heart rate, as well as relax muscle tension, each of which can significantly aid in reducing headaches and migraines.
This ancient component of Chinese medicine involves inserting tiny needles into specific pressure points in the body. This process is believed to stimulate the release of naturally produced hormones called endorphins, which help the body to manage pain, tension, inflammation, and stress.
Hormonal headaches and menstrual migraines are common for many women, however, some minor lifestyle adaptations along with a few natural remedies can provide relief.
If symptoms persist and become more severe, consult with a doctor or health practitioner for further treatment options.
National Headache Foundation – Menstrual Migraine –https://headaches.org/2019/10/25/menstrual-migraine/
American Migraine Foundation -Migraine in women - https://americanmigrainefoundation.org/resource-library/migraine-women/
National Center for Biotechnology Information - Exercise as migraine prophylaxis: A randomized study using relaxation and topiramate as controls - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3236524/
National Center For Biotechnology Information - Use of Vitex agnus-castus in migrainous women with premenstrual syndrome: an open-label clinical observation - https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22791378/
American Migraine Foundation – Magnesium - https://americanmigrainefoundation.org/resource-library/magnesium/