People get headaches for all kinds of reasons. For some, the trigger might be stress or coffee, and for others, bright lights or lack of sleep.
But the menopause phase in a woman’s life can bring a whole new set of headaches and migraines.
During menopause, hormonal shifts can cause a lot of unpleasant symptoms, including hot flashes, mood swings, insomnia, and headaches.
Hormonal headaches aren’t exclusively a menopausal problem. They can affect women of all ages. They can strike just before your period, during pregnancy, or while using birth control. But they’re particularly common during perimenopause and menopause.
In this post, we’ll be exploring the connection between menopause and headaches. We’ll examine what causes them, who is most at risk, and what we can do to manage the symptoms.
What Causes Headaches During Menopause?
When a woman enters perimenopause (the build-up to menopause), the hormones begin to shift. The estrogen and progesterone, which regulate her monthly cycle, both rise and fall dramatically.
Yet these vital hormones don’t just regulate periods. They have a knock-on effect on a whole host of other functions, including chemicals in the brain that affect pain.
Estrogen also dilates the blood vessels in the brain. Progesterone works in the opposite way, causing them to constrict. So, when these hormones begin to fluctuate, the expanding and contracting blood vessels can leave you with a pounding head.
Who is at Risk of Menopausal Headaches?
Anyone going through menopause can suffer from hormone headaches. That being said, certain risk factors can increase the chances of it happening to you.
- A History of Menstrual Migraines
Women who usually suffer from headaches before and during their period are at a higher risk of developing menopause-related headaches and migraines when they enter this new phase of life.
Hormone replacement therapy (HRT)is known to help with many of the side effects of menopause. But for some, it can actually make hormonal headaches worse.
- Birth Control
Just like HRT, birth control can improve the symptoms of hormone headaches in some people, but in others, it can make them worse.
Stress is a major risk factor for headaches. According to research by the American Headache Society, 4 in every 5 people who suffer from frequent migraines report stress as the cause.
What Types of Headaches are Associated With Menopause?
There are several different types of menopause-related hormone headaches, but the most commonly reported are tension headaches and migraines.
- Tension Headaches
Tension headaches are described as a squeezing sensation, like a tight band wrapped around the skull. The pain usually affects both sides of the head. Plus, it can also extend to the back of the neck and the base of the skull. The skin may feel tender to the touch.
Migraines are a more severe form of headache characterized by a deep throbbing sensation, usually on one side of the head. They can be debilitating, lasting anywhere from a few hours to a few days.
Migraines are often accompanied by nausea and an overwhelming sensitivity to light, sounds, and smells.
For most women, menopause-related migraines come seemingly out of nowhere. But some people experience what is known as an aura just before a migraine begins. The main symptoms of auras are visual disturbances such as flashes of light, dark spots, and sparks.
What Can Trigger Hormone Headaches?
Avoiding hormone headaches during perimenopause and menopause isn’t easy. But knowing what can cause them may help to stave them off or at least make them less frequent and severe.
Here are some of the most common triggers of headaches in menopausal women:
- Bright lights
- Loud noises
- Strong odors
- Lack of sleep
- Blood sugar spikes and falls
- Certain food additives, such as monosodium glutamate (MSG).
- Your period. Menstrual migraines and headaches before and during your period are relatively common throughout the female population. But during perimenopause, when periods become more frequent and erratic, these types of headaches can become more regular and severe.
There’s no avoiding your period. But if you know when it’s coming, you can prepare for the potential headache that might accompany it.
How to Find Relief from Menopausal Headaches
Menopausal headaches can be painful and even debilitating. But there are several ways to manage the symptoms and find some relief.
Popular over the counter pain relief options are Tylenol (acetaminophen), Advil (ibuprofen), and Aleve (naproxen).
The over-the-counter pain reliever Excedrin is particularly effective for treating headaches and migraines. Excedrin contains 500mg of aspirin, 500mg of paracetamol (acetaminophen), and 130mg of caffeine, which research suggests is the golden ratio for pain relief.
For migraines with nausea, over-the-counter Benadryl (diphenhydramine) or Dramamine and Bonine (meclizine) have been shown to help. However, these types of medications can induce drowsiness, so you shouldn’t operate a vehicle or heavy machinery while taking them.
If these over-the-counter medications aren’t enough, visit your doctor. They might prescribe more powerful pain relief and anti-nausea medications to help manage your symptoms while they’re at their worst.
Avoid Light and Sound
When headaches and migraines are at their worst, lying down in a dark, quiet, and comfortable space can help to minimize the symptoms. Try to block out light and noise, keeping the environment as stimulus free as possible. A cold towel on your forehead can also help.
Dehydration can exacerbate existing headaches and even trigger new ones. So keep a bottle of water on hand and take regular sips throughout the day. Drink extra water if you’re dealing with hot flashes and night sweats. Both of these menopause symptoms can make dehydration worse.
Get Plenty of Sleep
Insomnia is a common symptom of menopause. And unfortunately, a lack of sleep can bring other unpleasant side effects, such as headaches and migraines. So, if you’re struggling with insomnia on your menopausal journey, it’s important to try and fix the issue as soon as possible.
Balance Your Hormones
Shifting hormones are the driving force behind menopausal headaches. So, to get to the root of the issue, you’ll need to address the hormonal imbalance.
Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) can help. However, there are serious risks of side effects with this type of medication. Plus, in some women, it can make their menopausal headaches worse.
So, before you opt for HRT, consider some more gentle and natural ways to balance out your hormones during menopause.
Foods rich in phytoestrogens (such as soy and flaxseed) have been shown to help ease many menopausal symptoms, such as hot flashes, night sweats, and mood swings. And they can help to relieve hormonal headaches, too.
Plus, certain herbal supplements like black cohosh and red clover can also boost estrogen and relieve headaches in some people.
Visit Your Doctor
If you’re journeying through menopause and you’re suffering from recurrent headaches, the most likely cause is your hormones.
But that doesn’t mean you have to resign yourself to pain and discomfort for the next several years. Visit your doctor, who can confirm the cause of your headaches and suggest a treatment plan that can help.
In very rare cases, headaches and migraines can point to a more serious, potentially life-threatening condition.
You should seek medical advice if you experience any of the following symptoms:
- Headaches that are increasing in severity
- Headaches with unintentional weight loss
- Headaches that can’t be relieved with over-the-counter prescription painkillers
- Headaches that are becoming more frequent
Seek emergency medical treatment if you experience any of the following symptoms:
- A sudden headache with extreme pain
- A headache accompanied by a fever
- A headache accompanied by a rash
- A headache accompanied by weakness and/or dizziness
- A headache that wakes you in the night
- A headache with blurred vision
Menopausal headaches can last anywhere from 30 minutes to several hours or even days. They can strike at any time during your menopause journey. However, they’re most common during perimenopause.
Perimenopause is the build-up to menopause. During this phase, your hormones are in a constant state of flux. So, many of the most bothersome symptoms of menopause, including headaches and migraines, are at their peak.
Most women find that once they reach menopause, their headaches become less frequent and severe, and in many cases, they disappear completely.
Headache is a general term to describe pain in the head region. Tension headaches are the most common type during menopause, but sinus headaches and cluster headaches are also prevalent during menopause.
Migraines are another specific type of headache. But they are more severe and long-lasting, and they’re often accompanied by visual and sensory symptoms during menopause.
Yes, if you’re a woman in your 40s or 50s, occasional headaches are likely to be a symptom of menopause.
That being said, headaches and migraines can be caused by a variety of conditions, including :
High blood pressure
Carbon monoxide poisoning
Depression and anxiety
Idiopathic intracranial hypertension (IIH)
If you’re concerned about the severity or frequency of your headaches, visit your doctor to rule out any underlying cause.
Headaches and migraines can be one of the most painful and debilitating symptoms of menopause. When they happen regularly, they can interfere with your daily life and affect your overall well-being.
So, if you’re experiencing frequent headaches or migraines, don’t suffer in silence. Speak to your doctor. They can assess your symptoms and rule out any underlying health conditions. Then, they can recommend a treatment plan to help manage your symptoms.
And remember, in most cases, frequent headaches during perimenopause are a temporary problem. Once you officially reach menopause and your hormones settle, the headaches are likely to become less severe.
- Tip of the Month: Reducing Menopausal Headaches (menopausecentre.com.au)
- Headaches and hormones: What’s the connection? – Mayo Clinic
- Menopause and HRT: Hormone Replacement Therapy Types and Side Effects (webmd.com)
- Side effects of hormone replacement therapy (HRT) – NHS (www.nhs.uk)
- Migraines and Stress: What’s the Connection? (healthline.com)
- Behavioral-Infographic_V3_FINAL.pdf (americanheadachesociety.org)
- MSG Headache: Symptoms, Prevention, Treatment (verywellhealth.com)
- Headache During Period: Causes, Treatments, and More (healthline.com)
- Aspirin, paracetamol (acetaminophen) and caffeine for the treatment of acute migraine attacks: A systemic review and meta‐analysis of randomized placebo‐controlled trials – Diener – 2022 – European Journal of Neurology – Wiley Online Library
- Insomnia and Headaches: The Link Between Them (sleepandheadache.com)