Many women suffer from headaches which occur for a variety of reasons. However some women experience these more often than others and around the time of the menopause.
There are different types of headaches, for example, migraines, which are common to both sexes but then there are others which specifically affect women.
Examples of these are headaches which occur just before the onset of a menstrual period or during ovulation.
But hormonal headaches often develop during the early stages of the menopause or at menopause itself which is due to hormone levels.
What are hormonal headaches?
These types of headaches occur during the premenopause or menopause and at irregular intervals. They can suddenly appear even in women who do not experience headaches and may take the form of a severe migraine.
There are women who suffer from migraine and at particular stages in their lives, for example, puberty (onset of menstruation) and then the menopause.
If you are a headache sufferer, especially with migraines then you may find that you continue to experience these during the menopause.
Many women find that their headaches disappear during pregnancy, whilst using contraception (e.g. birth control pills) and after the menopause.
Fluctuating hormones cause blood vessels within the brain to open and close. Oestrogen causes them to open whilst progesterone causes them to close.
This movement results in intense pain or a headache.
How common are hormonal headaches?
There are women who never experience a headache and then there are others who suffer from these on a regular basis.
If you have a tendency to headaches, for example migraines which you may have suffered from in your 20’s and 30’s then there is a good chance that you will do so during your menopause.
Many people suffer from headaches so do not assume that you are the only one. The vast majority of headaches occur for a minor reason, e.g. stress, and are easily resolved.
But if you suffer from prolonged headaches or have noticed that they have increased in severity then speak to your GP. Do not assume that a headache is the sign of a brain tumour or some other serious complaint but it is better to be safe than sorry.
Causes of hormonal headaches
Headaches which occur during the menopause can be attributed to fluctuating hormones during this time.
The female hormones oestrogen and progesterone are behaving in an erratic manner during this time and as a result of this cause a range of symptoms which we know as the menopause.
Your body needs an optimal balance of oestrogen and progesterone to function on a day to day level. This is vital for the menstrual cycle and other similar processes but it can go off synch.
If oestrogen levels fall, which they do around the time of the menopause, which puts it out of kilter with progesterone levels then you will experience some unpleasant symptoms, e.g. headaches as a result of this.
There is a delicate balance between the two hormones which is very easily upset. Stress, illness and vitamin deficiencies disrupt this balance but almost anything will do so.
You may be an ‘oestrogenic’ person which means that your body tends to readily convert progesterone to oestrogen. There are many women who have higher levels of oestrogen than normal which causes symptoms such as mood swings, fatigue and headaches.
If you suspect that you are ‘oestrogen dominant’then speak to your GP. He or she will carry out a series of tests to confirm this and suggest a few lifestyle changes if necessary.
Another factor is the increasing amounts of xenoestrogens or substances in our environment which have a similar structure to oestrogen.
These are man-made substances which appear in many well known products such as cosmetics, household products, foods, plastics and hormone replacement therapy (HRT).
HRT and migraines
This is something to take into account if you are considering HRT. HRT eases the symptoms of the menopause but it has side effects which you need to think about beforehand.
One of these side effects is headaches specifically migraine headaches.
There is no proven link between the two but some women have found that HRT intensifies the symptoms of migraine.
This tends to apply to those women who were suffering from migraines before the menopause. It is very unlikely that migraines would develop during the menopause and as a result of taking HRT.
If you start a course of HRT and find that it intensifies the symptoms and frequency of a migraine attack or causes you to experience headaches for the first then speak to your GP.
He or she will further investigate the causes of your headaches and will change the dosage of your HRT if necessary.
Find out more about HRT in our menopause treatment section.
Triggers for hormonal headaches
Certain foods trigger these headaches, for example spicy foods and chocolate as do alcohol, lack of sleep and stress.
Other triggers include:
- Changes in the weather
- Loud noises
- Bright lights
- Sweeteners, e.g. Aspartame
- Foods that contain the chemical Tyramine
But hormonal imbalance such as that experienced during the menopause is the most common cause of these headaches.
Treating hormonal headaches
Aspirin or Paracetamol are popular over the counter remedies used to treat headaches. These do get rid of the headache but are a short term measure only.
A better option may be a few lifestyle changes such as cutting down on caffeine intake, taking exercise, drinking plenty of water and learning to relax.
Yoga and meditation may help as may head massages and a hot/cold compress placed on the forehead. A regular sleep pattern can also help.
If you are experiencing headaches during the menopause then speak to your GP about treatment options. The menopause is a time when you are more likely to experience a range of headaches such as migraine but there are ways of dealing with this.
Find out more in our menopause self help section.
- Guide to Menopause
- What is the menopause?
- Female hormones and menopause
- Premature menopause
- Menopause signs
- Menopause symptoms
- Hot flushes
- Night sweats
- Heart palpitations
- Sleep disturbances
- Mood swings
- Urinary changes
- Vaginal changes
- Weight gain
- Lack of interest in sex
- Aches and pains
- Skin changes
- Emotional changes
- Health risks of the menopause
- Heart disease
- Breast cancer
- Ovarian cancer
- Menopause treatment
- Hormone replacement therapy
- Benefits of hormone replacement therapy
- Risks of hormone replacement therapy
- Alternatives to hormone replacement therapy
- Vaginal lubricants
- Menopause self help
- Nutritional supplements
- Complimentary therapies
- Botanical products
- How to survive the menopause
- Menopause myths
- Menopause FAQs