Menstrual Headaches: Why We Get Them and How to Alleviate Them

Periods come in all different forms. Some are short, some are light, some are heavy, and some are so, so painful. And for some of us tampon-wielding soldiers, periods can bring excruciating headaches along with them. 

Much like periods, there are also a number of different types of headaches. But we wanted to better understand why we get a headache every time Aunt Flo comes to town, so we talked to a real doctor to find out. 

According to Dr. Sheila Wijayasinghe, who is a family doctor and health expert on CTV’s The Social, there are many headache variants but menstrual migraines are the ones some of us get during our periods. 

She helped us to better understand why we get menstrual migraines, how to get rid of them, and if the Pill really helps: 

 

Why do we get headaches during our periods? 

Hey ovaries, we love you, but why do you have hurt us like this? 

Let’s do a quick biology refresher

Our ovaries produce progesterone and estrogen, which help control our menstrual cycle. If we do not become pregnant during our cycle, these hormones stop secreting and our period starts. 

According to Dr. Sheila, if a headache occurs just prior to your period, “it may be due to the natural drop in progesterone levels. You may also notice headaches around ovulation when estrogen peaks.” 

So basically, if you experience a headache or migraine just before your period starts, you may be more sensitive to the hormonal fluctuations that occur as a result of your cycle.


How can we alleviate menstrual migraines? 

If you get headaches or migraines triggered by menstruation, Dr. Sheila recommends using the same medication you would for any other type of headaches, like “acetaminophen, anti-inflammatory medications, and a class of headache medications called triptans.” 

Nothing too crazy, right? 

That said, every case is different, so if you have debilitating headaches, be sure to talk to your doctor. 

 

If I’m on the Pill, can I still get headaches? 

If you are taking an oral contraceptive, most of the time there is a week without hormones, which is when you experience your period. At this time, Dr. Sheila says, “you will experience a drop in hormones which can potentially trigger a headache.” If so, talk to your doctor about it. 

Your doc may recommend skipping the sugar pills or taking them closer together to prevent the hormone drop and the risk of a headache. A pill with lower levels of estrogen could work too: with those pills, the hormone drop isn’t as steep so there is less risk of headache. 

Dr. Sheila also made sure to note that if you have a type of migraine with “aura”, “you cannot take the combined estrogen/progesterone oral contraceptive pill because it is associated with a risk of stroke in these individuals.” Again, talk to your family doctor about finding the best solution for your migraines. 

Headaches are an unfortunate side effect to being a human with a brain, but if they are associated with your period, they can start to occur all too often (once a month, to be precise!). 

And when a pesky headache turns into a debilitating migraine and can no longer by treated with your standard acetaminophen, it may become time to ask for help. Talk to your doctor about what’s best for you, but take comfort knowing you are not alone. 

Ovaries, right? Can’t live with ‘em, can’t live without ‘em. 

 

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