Too many of us have stories of having difficulty accessing the care we need. Often times, healthcare barriers are directly related to the gender bias of medicine, as well as stigmatizations about our race, ethnicity, sexuality, gender identity, age, height, income, and constitution. In our Pain Today series, we highlight these stories through personal and narrated essays in hopes of empowering each other to advocate for our health in ways that much of the medical community does not.
Ever since I stopped taking the pill, I’ve inevitably felt a throbbing pain behind my left eye for the past year. Sometimes it spread to my jaw or sometimes I was sensitive to light. But I would always be super tired. After doing a lot of Google searches and chatting with friends who had similar symptoms, I discovered that I was suffering from menstrual migraines.
People with vulva are at greatest risk of developing migraines. According to the Cleveland Clinic, 70% of migraine sufferers are women. Of these women, 60 to 70% report a connection between their menstruation (periods) and their migraines. So if this sounds similar to what you experience each month, scroll down to learn what a menstrual migraine is and how that time of the month can cause a headache.
What is a migraine?
“The difference between migraines and tension-type headaches (the most common type) is that the pain of the migraine is more severe, the pain is often throbbing, typically (but not always) on one side of the head,” Dr. Alexander Mauskop, MD, FAAN, Professor of Clinical Neurology at SUNY and Director of the New York Headache Center, tells HelloGiggles.
“It is made worse by light physical activity and is accompanied by nausea, sensitivity to light, noise, and smell,” he adds. “Neither of these characteristics is required to diagnose a migraine. If there are two or three, it’s a migraine.”
Migraine headaches tend to be quite severe. It can not only be accompanied by sensitivity to light and noise and nausea with or without vomiting, but according to Dr. Sara Crystal, neurologist and medical director of Cove, a digital health program that enables patients to receive expert treatment for migraines, 25% of people with migraines experience an aura before or during their seizures. “These mostly consist of visual disturbances,” she says. “For example, bright, blinking lights. These can be very scary, especially when they first appear.”
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In addition, many people with migraines experience symptoms hours to days before the pain starts. For example, you may experience changes in mood and appetite, yawning, and cravings. “These are known as prodromal symptoms,” says Dr. Crystal. “Similarly, even after the pain has subsided, many people have to deal with ‘migraine hangover’ or postdrome, which can include difficulty concentrating, tiredness and a general feeling of inability to function. This phase can last up to two days.”
What is the difference between a migraine and a menstrual migraine?
“The menstrual migraine is a typical migraine that occurs before or during your period,” says Dr. Mouse head. “The drop in estrogen levels accelerates the attack.”
Dr. Mauskop also says that the lowering of estrogen occurs to a lesser extent before ovulation, in some women even twice a month: with ovulation and with menstruation. “Migraines often improve during pregnancy and menopause because estrogen levels remain constant,” she adds.
Why do I get migraines during my menstrual cycle?
According to Maritza Worthington, FDN-P, CHNC, a functional nutritionist and colon and hormone specialist, hormonal headaches occur because your body tries to communicate with you or ask something of you.
“If you experience monthly hormonal headaches (especially during the luteal or menstrual phases) it can usually indicate an estrogen dominance, thyroid / cortisol imbalance, or nutrient / mineral deficiencies like B vitamins and magnesium,” she says.
Menstrual Migraine Treatments:
1. Track your periods and menstrual migraines.
First of all, Dr. Crystal to track your migraines, when they occur, their intensity, symptoms, etc. “Over time, patterns often emerge that help doctors identify triggers and, more importantly, find the most effective treatment faster” she says.
Track your period too, she says. “Tracking both migraines and periods can help determine when your migraines typically start in relation to your cycle because anticipating the pain before it starts is very helpful.”
2. Eat anti-inflammatory foods.
“An anti-inflammatory diet that includes vegetables and roots like turmeric and ginger can be especially helpful in the days leading up to your period,” says Worthington. “Turmeric is a powerful root that reduces inflammatory pathways that can cause pain. Turmeric can also be taken in the form of a latte, capsule, or tincture if higher doses are required. “
Much like turmeric, ginger root in higher doses (1,000 mg) has been shown to be a great NSAID alternative and can really reduce pain and inflammation associated with increased release of inflammatory prostaglandins during menstruation. “It’s always a good idea to double up both roots and make a strong anti-inflammatory tea concoction,” adds Worthington.
3. Take magnesium.
“Magnesium is one of the most common mineral deficiencies I see, and sometimes it can be linked to these debilitating headaches,” says Worthington. “A lot of women just don’t get enough magnesium in their diets, and much of it is due to nutrient-poor soils and stressors from modern life.”
According to Worthington, magnesium reserves are depleted faster during the luteal phase of a woman’s cycle than at any other point in a woman’s cycle. “So it’s a good idea to fortify this magnesium diet at least a week before Aunt Flow arrives,” she says. “Excellent sources of magnesium are leafy green vegetables, fish, pumpkin seeds, dark chocolate, and Epsom salt baths or topical oil-based solutions.”
4. Use peppermint essential oil.
“A few drops of peppermint essential oil rubbed into your temples can add a little more pep to your step,” says Worthington. “Because it is a stimulant oil that is slightly energizing, it can help relieve hormonal migraines and menstrual pain that can occur during menstruation.”