MN, M.D.: I Have Painful Headaches During My Period And Pills Don’t Help

July 29, 2013  |  

Q: During my menstrual cycle I have extremely painful headaches. My head hurts and my eyes hurt beyond tablet relief. What can I do?

A lot of women experience this so you are not alone.  They often complain that these headaches occur right before or during their menstrual cycle, and since a majority of women with these symptoms also have a history of migraines, these headaches are referred to as menstrual migraines.  In fact, about 70% of women who have migraines complain that their menstrual cycle is one of the major triggers of their headaches.

Why does it occur? Well, in the beginning of your menstrual cycle, the hormone estrogen is low.  The problem is that estrogen not only affects your menstrual cycle, but other parts of the body such as your brain.  In those who already have problems with migraines, this low level of estrogen causes the brain signals to induce another migraine attack.  Even the simple headaches that you get from feeling stressed or tensed can also act up when there are low levels of estrogen in the body.

What can you do? Taking over-the-counter medications such as aspirin, ibuprofen, and Tylenol can help.  Applying ice packs or a cold cloth to your head and neck can also act as a temporary relief.  Even acupuncture has been found to help headache pains.  Because being stressed is a major contributor to headaches in general, you need to focus on what is causing you stress.  Develop some stress relieving techniques (eg, yoga, meditation) to help make you feel more relaxed.  These relaxation techniques should also help in improving your pain when it starts.  Exercising regularly may also help in reducing the number or length of headaches that you experience.

Obviously, you also need to talk to your doctor. Based on what you are saying, you are having headaches despite “tablet relief,” which  I assume you mean beyond over-the-counter medications.  In that case, you will definitely need to talk to your doctor so they can provide stronger medications to you to help with the pain.  Also, based on your history, your doctor may also want to prescribe medications that you would need to take before your menstrual cycle starts.  This is to prevent you from having these headaches to begin with.  Lastly, there are many causes of headaches in general.  Your doctor will likely want to make sure that this is truly menstrual migraines and nothing else.  The only way he can find out is by asking you questions about your headache triggers, what makes it better or worse and what other symptoms you are experiencing.

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