Just when you think you’ve run the gamut of menopause symptoms, another one seems to sneak round the corner. Menopause headaches are really a thing and—whether they’re mild or severe—they can have a big impact on your general well-being.
So what causes menopause headaches and—more importantly—how can you manage them as you navigate this chapter in your life?
For starters, headaches come in all shapes and sizes. Tension headaches, stress headaches, and migraines each differ in terms of their severity and the symptoms that come with them.
The one thing they definitely have in common? They have the potential to show up when menopause is on the horizon.
During perimenopause, significant changes happen in your body.
As your ovaries prepare their retirement plan, the hormones they’ve been producing since puberty begin to change their production schedule.
This transition period lasts somewhere between four and eight years—which is a pretty long time to be experiencing uncomfortable symptoms. Phew.
Here’s a quick breakdown of the key hormonal shifts that take place:
- Estrogen, the hormone in charge of growing and supporting your reproductive system, slows its production. Interestingly, it doesn’t do so in a totally linear fashion and sometimes higher levels of estrogen are seen in the perimenopausal phase.
- Progesterone, the hormone responsible for preparing your uterus for pregnancy every month, also declines.
These changes can cause a range of physical and emotional symptoms, from hot flashes to depression to vaginal dryness to—yes—menopause headaches.
So what do menopause headaches feel like, how long do they last, and what can we do about them? Let’s take a look.
Menopause and headaches FAQs
What does a menopause headache feel like?
As you may well know, not all headaches are created equal.
A tension headache, for example, is a mild-to-moderate headache that can feel as though someone has sucked all the air out of your head.
You know that temple prodding sensation that makes you feel as though someone is squeezing down on either side of your cranium?
Yep, that’s the one. Not pleasant. There are so many reasons why tension headaches occur, from injury to anxiety to allergies.
There’s no doubt that a tension headache can ruin your day.
A migraine, on the other hand? Well, that can be pretty exhausting.
They can also make you more sensitive to light, sound, and smell. Migraines can last anywhere between hours and days.
Somewhere between 16 and 29% of us experience migraines over the menopausal period. In fact, they’re generally more prevalent in women, with about 43% of us experiencing them in our lifetimes. (Yep, we’re about twice as likely to experience them as men are.)
Migraines are divided up into four phases. Some people experience all; some experience only a few. They look like this:
- Prodrome. This is the warning phase and may happen a day or two before your migraine kicks in. In this time, you may experience symptoms like constipation, increased urination, neck stiffness, and fluid retention. This stage can also come with mental health symptoms such as depression, hyperactivity, and anxiety.
- Aura. The second phase may accompany a severe headache or come before it. It’s a temporary attack on your nervous system and often affects your vision, as well as sometimes causing hallucinations. Other symptoms include dizziness, tinnitus, and problems with your speech. Auras on their own are not permanent but can have similar symptoms to other more serious health conditions. It’s always worth seeking medical advice if you’re concerned.
- Attack. This is the severe headache itself, which often comes with other symptoms.
- Postdrome. You may have heard this phase referred to as the migraine hangover. It’s common and it can take days to go away for some people. At this time, you may continue to feel fatigue and dizziness, or to have digestive issues. It can cause some serious brain fog where everything feels quite surreal.
What causes menopause headaches?
While the research into migraines and menopause is still young, a bunch of evidence points to hormone shifts being at the heart of the link.
If you’ve ever experienced migraines before your period, you may already be familiar with the effects an estrogen drop can have on your head. A rise in estrogen can also have an effect, triggering migraine auras in some people.
But hormones aren’t the only culprits here. Food, drink, and medication can all play a part. As can stress. As can environmental factors like noise or light pollution.
Even changes in weather can cause tension headaches and migraines.
Our bodies are complex and no two women experience menopause headaches in exactly the same way.
The bottom line? If you’re struggling, it’s worth seeking medical advice. You don’t simply have to battle through this.
How long do menopause headaches last?
For many women, the situation improves after menopause because the hormonal flux that was causing them starts to settle down.
But this isn’t the case for everyone. In fact, this recent literature review has called for more research on the topic—particularly considering that for some women, migraine symptoms not only remain after menopause, but get worse.
What helps with menopause headaches?
So what can we do to manage the onslaught? First things first, it’s definitely worth booking an appointment with your healthcare provider to help manage this transition.
There are a few options that can help you find relief:
- Pain-relieving medication. Triptans are a group of drugs that may help relieve migraines for some people. Aspirin, ibuprofen, and acetaminophen may also work for you. And there are drugs to treat other migraine symptoms, such as anti-nausea medication.
- Preventative medication. Your doctor may prescribe medication that will help cut off your migraines before they start. Common options include antidepressants, anti-seizure medicines, and medication that lowers blood pressure.
- Botox injections. For some people, Botox injections every few months can help stave off migraines.
- Hormone replacement therapy (HRT)—but this one is complicated. HRT is used to treat several menopause symptoms. But while some women report their migraines go away after HRT, for others there’s no change. Sometimes, they get worse. If you are going into HRT and you have a history of migraines, it’s important to tell your doctor.
- Keeping a headache journal. Jot down when they occur and note the circumstances surrounding them. Keeping track may help you identify any potential triggers.
- Try to get a good night’s sleep. We know this is easier said than done, particularly when you are going through menopause. But sticking to a relatively regular sleep schedule, making sure that your room is dark and free of distraction, and daytime exercise can all help.
- Embrace the chill. Meditation, yoga, nature walks—these can all be beneficial in reducing your stress. Some recent research is proving very promising in terms of the effect of meditation on pain management.
And finally, know that you don’t have to navigate this alone. Speak to your doctor. Get your family and friends in the loop.
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