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.