What's the Deal With Menopause and Headaches?
Women who suffer from headaches often find that they are influenced by hormonal changes. For some people, headaches and migraines frequently occur just before or during menstruation. Others find that their headaches improve during pregnancy.
But when it comes to menopause and headaches, things are a little more complicated. For some women, menopause can trigger headaches or make them worse. However, others may find some much-needed relief. Let’s take a closer look.
What is the Link Between Menopause and Headaches?
Headaches are often the result of hormonal fluctuations. For example, the drop in estrogen levels that occurs just before menstruation can often trigger headaches and migraines. This phenomenon is sometimes known as the “estrogen withdrawal” hypothesis of headaches.
As women approach menopause, their estrogen levels fall dramatically. Therefore, it is unsurprising that many experience headaches at this time. Women who are already prone to headaches or migraines may find that their symptoms worsen. Meanwhile, some menopausal women begin to have severe headaches for the first time.
However, this is not always the case. Some women find that their headaches actually improve after menopause. There are several possible reasons for this. But first, it is necessary to understand precisely what is meant by the term menopause.
What Does Menopause Mean?
Menopause is a word that is often misunderstood. Its proper definition is the point in time 12 months after a woman’s last menstrual period. However, many people use it to describe the years leading up to this point, during which menopausal symptoms frequently occur. In the medical world, this lead-up is known as perimenopause.
Throughout perimenopause, a woman’s estrogen levels gradually decrease. This causes menstrual irregularities, including short or unpredictable cycles. These changes can lead to hormonal headaches and migraines, alongside other menopausal symptoms, such as hot flashes and night sweats.
Does Menopause Cause Headaches?
So, as well as being a direct result of hormonal changes, other menopausal symptoms can cause headaches too.
For example, perimenopausal and menopausal women often have poor sleep quality due to night sweats or insomnia. This can lead to headaches and fatigue the following day. Excessive sweating could also cause dehydration, another common cause of headaches.
Furthermore, menopause is associated with mood changes, including stress, anxiety, and depression. These symptoms might cause tightness in the neck and shoulders, leading to tension headaches.
Therefore, there are several reasons why perimenopausal women may be more prone to headaches and migraines. Furthermore, these problems can persist for several years after the menopause itself, as hormone levels continue to fall.
How to Cope With Headaches During Menopause
There are many different ways to cope with menopause headaches. The most effective options will vary from woman to woman, depending on the exact cause.
1. Keep a Headache Diary
Keeping a headache diary for at least three months is one of the best ways to determine the cause of menopause headaches. It can help women to spot cyclical patterns, even if they have stopped having regular periods. It can also help to identify other potential triggers, such as specific foods, activities, or stressful events.
Once the cause of the headaches has been identified, an appropriate treatment plan can be formulated with the help of a physician.
2. Eat Regularly
It is essential to eat little and often to keep blood sugar stable, as this helps reduce the risk of headaches. Do not skip meals, especially breakfast, and have a small snack before bed if necessary. Drink plenty of water to prevent dehydration, and avoid any trigger foods identified by your headache diary.
Trigger foods can vary greatly between individuals. However, some common culprits include alcohol, caffeine, chocolate, and dairy products, including certain cheeses.
3. Take Supplements
Some women find that dietary supplements help to relieve menopausal headaches, although the evidence for their effectiveness is limited. Some popular choices include vitamin B2 (riboflavin), vitamin D, magnesium, and coenzyme Q10.
4. Get Enough Sleep
Menopause symptoms can make it hard to get a good night’s sleep and this can lead to headaches. Therefore, it is crucial to practice good sleep hygiene, including keeping a regular bedtime and getting up at the same time each day.
Try to exercise daily and do something relaxing just before bed. Avoid stimulants, such as caffeine, and eating large meals late in the evening.
Switch off electronic screens early, as blue light interferes with melatonin, the hormone responsible for sleepiness. Try reading a book before bed rather than using smartphones or computers.
Finally, keep your bedroom cool and comfortable. Invest in a fan, cotton bedding, and blackout curtains or earplugs if necessary.
5. Manage Stress Levels
Stress is a leading cause of headaches and migraines. Therefore, it is important to keep it to a minimum. Many people find that relaxation techniques, such as meditation or yoga, help them to manage stress. Others swear by therapies like biofeedback, acupuncture, or massage.
For long-term stress, talking therapies, including cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) or counseling may be beneficial.
For women unable to manage their menopause headaches by making lifestyle changes, medication may provide some relief. There are many different options, ranging from painkillers to preventative medications. It is best to discuss your symptoms with a doctor to find the most suitable treatment for you.
Some women find that hormone replacement therapy (HRT) helps with menopause headaches. However, others find that it makes them worse. Generally speaking, transdermal patches or gels are the best options as they release their hormones more steadily than tablets. They also reduce the risk of other side effects.