Study Confirms That Migraines Worsen As Women Approach Menopause

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Migraine headaches heat up as women approach menopause, according to a new study from researchers at the University of Cincinnati (UC), Montefiore Headache Center, Albert Einstein College of Medicine and Vedanta Research.

About 12 percent of Americans get migraines, and women get them three times more often than men, the researchers said.

“Women have been telling doctors that their migraine headaches worsen around menopause and now we have proof they were right,” says Vincent Martin, MD, professor of internal medicine in UC’s Division of General Internal Medicine and co-director of the Headache and Facial Pain Program at the UC Neuroscience Institute.

The risk for high frequency headache, or more than 10 days with headache per month, increased by 60 percent in middle-aged women with migraine during the perimenopause–the transitional period into menopause marked by irregular menstrual cycles–as compared to normally cycling women, says Martin, the study’s lead author.

Martin teamed with Richard Lipton, MD, Jelena Pavlovic, MD, PhD, and Dawn Buse, PhD, from Montefiore Headache Center and Albert Einstein College of Medicine, and Kristina Fanning, PhD, and Michael Reed, PhD, from Vedanta Research, Chapel Hill, NC, to study 3,664 women who experienced migraine before and during their menopausal years.

There is help for women who have migraines and are approaching menopause, said study co-author Dr. Jelena Pavlovic, an attending physician in neurology at the Montefiore Headache Center and an assistant professor in the neurology department at Albert Einstein College of Medicine.

“Physicians can prescribe hormonal therapies that level out these changes that occur during the perimenopause and menopause time periods. If the patient is in early perimenopause, you can give birth control pills that level things out. If they are in the late perimenopause and they start skipping periods, they can be put on estrogen patches,” Pavlovic said.

But hormones may not always be the culprit. Although the number of migraines rose 76 percent during menopause, some headaches may be the result of medication overuse, which is common in this age group, according to Martin.

“Women, as they get older, develop lots of aches and pains, joints and back pain, and it is possible their overuse of pain medications for headache and other conditions might actually drive an increase in headaches for the menopause group,” he said.

The findings were published online in Headache: The Journal of Head and Face Pain, a publication of the American Headache Society.

After struggling with her own severe menopause symptoms and doing years of research, Ellen resolved to share what she learned from experts and her own trial and error. Her goal was to replace the confusion, embarrassment, and symptoms millions of women go through–before, during, and after menopause–with the medically sound solutions she discovered. Her passion to become a “sister” and confidant to all women fueled Ellen’s first book, Shmirshky: the pursuit of hormone happiness. As a result of the overwhelming response from her burgeoning audiences and followers’ requests for empowering information they could trust, Ellen’s weekly blog, Menopause MondaysTM, was born.

  • Jayne

    I get irritated when i read there is help out there for women going through perimenopause/menopause. I too suffered terribly from about the age of 40 up until about 18 months ago. During that time i resorted to taking my husband with me to our local surgery because the doctors were not helping me. I had tremors, panic attacks, symptoms of early onset diabetes, unbearable migraine headaches, heavy bleeding, at one point i called the paramedics out as i was so frightened thinking i was having a heart attack. One doctor told me if i didnt take anti depressants or HRT, what was the point in coming to the doctor. I have brought up 3 children, worked as an IT consultant and trying to study for my masters degree during this time, my father also passed away. I got to the point where i couldnt function, i didnt want to see or talk to anyone and was becoming withdrawn. I needed help but nobody was listening. My husband was a rock during this time, if it wasnt for him, i dont know whether i would have got through it.

    • Ellen Dolgen

      I am so sorry that you have gone through so much. I am so happy your husband has been such a wonderful support for you. From the symtpoms you are explaining it sounds like your hormones are not balanced. Do you have a good menopause specialist? Was there a reason you wouldn’t consider hormone therapy?

    • I am so sorry that you have gone through so much. It is wonderful that your husband has been so wonderful.

    • Teresa

      Jayne , I so identify with what you are saying , sounds like you know me . Just looking for some encouragement … you said it all started @ about age 40, and your on the otherside now 18 months ago .. how young are you now , if you don’t mind sharing

  • Doreen

    I suffered an increase in migraines as I entered the peri-menopausal phase, I also developed awful pains & aches all over my body; up to that point in my life I had only ever experienced a migraine on the day that my period started, though not every time, thankfully; I had also had a healthy diet & was very active, so to find myself waking with the most awful headache every morning, & generally dragging myself around the place like an elderly woman, was shocking, to say the least. To, now, hear that doctors have proof of what many menopausal women have known forever, is of little relevance to me, and only further proves that we, as women, need to believe in ourselves more, and give up needing the scientific proof that we are, or may be struggling with our health at this time in our life. Further, my experience of increased migraines & pain had nothing to do with an “overuse” in pain medications, as suggested by the ‘experts’, since I have avoided medication use for most of my life, thankfully. However, given that we can feel such physical pain & lost to our former selves at this time in our life, I can see how we turn to the medical professionals for help & end up taking whatever they prescribe for us, & then end up being ‘judged’ & ‘categorized’ by the said profession for “overuse” of medications who prescribe in the first place; in other words, a vicious circle we can, sadly, find ourselves in when we are vulnerable & turn to those who claim they have the answers to help us. And still, we have the sound bites: there is help for women at this time from their physicians: the contraceptive pill, estrogen patches, painkillers etc etc. What about if they don’t work, or what about the side effects, or the fact that each women is an individual with a body that has its own individual needs at all times in her life, & in particular, as she enters the peri-menopausal stage. Like the other respondent, Jayne, I to get irritated by the continued claims by the medical model that there is help for menopausal women, but at what cost? & I am not talking about the financial cost, though that is an issue. It can be a difficult time in a woman’s life, a very vulnerable time, & sadly, it is also the time of life when she needs to have her wits about her more than at any other time in her life, especially when dealing with the medical professionals that she may turn to. Constant self education about what is happening to her; constant research into what is available, or being prescribed for her, with its pros & cons; & constant questioning of her medical team, & if they don’t like this, change them, though finding physicians that are open to working with pro-active patients is another challenge, on top of every other challenge, that we face at this time. It is often like we are being asked to make an assertive stand for ourselves at a time when we are least able to do so. So, I guess, I too feel irritated by the constant generic sound bites thrown around about the help that is available for menopause & health issues associated with it. In my personal experience & anecdotally, we are lucky to reach our post-menopausal stage of life strong & healthy in body, mind & spirit, if we have had to turn to the medical profession for help during the ‘Change’. We need to listen to our own bodies & validate it for ourselves without any need for validation from the researchers or their studies; we, ourselves, are the experts. Our best supports are ourselves, our family & friends, & the medical profession only for getting our overall health checked out, & the results used as the basis for developing/evolving our our own strategies of care. I take my hat off to every woman who has ever navigated the ‘Change’:)
    Thank you for your Blog Ellen, & for the courage you have to put yourself ‘out there’.

    • I agree that we need to trust ourselves! We know when we don’t feel well. Migraines are so horrible. I hope you have downloaded my free eBook, MENOPAUSE MONDAYS The Girlfriends Guide to Surviving and Thriving Perimenopause and Menopause. I interviewed a wonderful migraine specialist for Chapter 11. You can download here. http://ellendolgen.com/menopause-book