Why headaches happen (or stop happening)

This month’s hormone-change symptom is headaches. So, can menopause cause headaches? Well, Around 60% of women in perimenopause and menopause report new or increased head pain. That would strongly indicate "yes."

Some women find relief from headaches after menopause; some find the headaches are worse and more frequent, especially in the years leading up to menopause. Some women may find themselves having migraines for the first time ever. [Read Kara’s story of migraines, hormones and pregnancy.]

Estrogen and progesterone drop just before your period starts, so women whose headaches are triggered by hormone withdrawal (who knew that was a thing?) may find head pain intensifies in perimenopause when hormone levels are fluctuating and declining overall. The good news is, hormonal headaches generally decline or stop altogether after menopause. They can also be caused by high blood pressure, and at times heart palpitations, both of which can onset during menopause.

When to consult a doctor

If your headaches are worse and start to interfere with your life, see a doctor. Yes, changes are normal during this time when everything is changing, but a doc can determine if what you’re experiencing needs medical intervention. Further, a health care professional who specializes in headaches and migraines can help you identify triggers and establish a treatment plan.

Fixes for menopause head pain

The solution may depend on the trigger. Generally, if the reduction in hormones triggers headaches, low-dose birth control pills may provide some relief.

Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) can also help level out hormones during the transition of perimenopause and into menopause, but because triggers and responses are so unique, women should work closely with their doctors to get the treatments right, including dosage and how the treatment is delivered. Also, perimenopause isn’t a time of consistent, dependable decline, so monitoring closely and shifting treatments accordingly will be necessary for many women.

For women with a history of breast cancer or blood clots, HRT may not be the treatment route of choice. In that case, there are several paths that can help.

Identify and banish triggers. Specialists often recommend that those with head pain keep a food and drink journal for several months. This can help identify triggers so they can be eliminated from your diet. (Spoiler alert: coffee, wine, chocolate, and some cheeses are common triggers. We know, bummer.)

Use alternative pain-management strategies. Biofeedback, acupuncture, and relaxation techniques have shown promise in helping people reduce and manage all kinds of pain, including headaches. How long do your menopause headaches last? 

Lifestyle changes. Menopausal head and neck pain can be greatly improved by regular, consistent sleep patterns; exercise can help your body relax and promote better sleep and circulation; water retention may be partly responsible for your head pain, so reducing salt and hydrating are good things to try. Cut out smoking, of course, if you possibly can. I found that better eye care helped me: I needed to move to reading glasses, plus my eyes are dryer now. The constant squinting and strain were making headaches worse, and getting the right prescription and some over-the-counter drops helped enormously. And I got a nice big monitor that is easier to see and a better ergonomic fit than looking down at my laptop. See? Lifestyle changes. They actually do help.

CBD. Many women find real relief with CBD oil, like that in Sagely Naturals Relief & Recovery Headache Roll-On. While science hasn't yet determined why CBD helps with pain, there is certainly lots of anecdotal evidence that it does, so you may want to give it a try.

It’s frustrating, we know: headaches may get better, they may get worse. Hormones may help or hurt. Menopause could mean the end of migraines or the beginning. Whatever you experience, there is help. And making good lifestyle changes like getting regular sleep, drinking more water, and exercising in the fresh air certainly won’t hurt you.

We’d love to know if you’ve experienced changes. Even if you’re not perimenopausal, what’s your experience with head pain? Every voice adds to the conversation, so please join in in the comments or on Facebook or Twitter.

*As ever, the information in this blog is not meant to replace expert advice by a medical professional. If you have concerns that what you’re experiencing needs medical attention, stop reading this right now and go get it.

This blog is part of our symptom of the month (SOTM) series. While this may sound like a lot less fun than the wine or cheese of the month clubs, hormone changes at midlife are responsible for a surprisingly creative and festive array of symptoms in women we think you should know about. Some we’re all familiar with: hot flashes, irregular periods, mood swings. Some are less known, like headaches, hair loss, and dry eyes. We think it’s important that women know what to expect so they recognize it when it comes and have the tools to deal with it.

We also think it’s important to have a ballpark idea of what’s “normal” and when you might want to consult with a medical professional. Some symptoms that are dismissed as menopausal can actually be more serious, if caused by an under- or overactive thyroid, uterine fibroids, or endometrial or cervical cancer, for example.

We love you and want you to be well, so our SOTM posts are all about letting you know what could be coming, when or when not to panic,* and what resources you have for combating the symptoms and getting back to your fabulous life and self.


Shannon Perry

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