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Do female hormones cause more headaches in women? Unfortunately, it appears so.
From around the time of puberty through the changes of menopause, women experience significantly more headaches than men, particularlymigraines, explains William Rettig, MD.
According to studies reported by the National Institutes of Health , women in the U.S. suffer migraines at a rate three times higher than in men. The most likely culprits are hormonal fluctuations that result from important life stages, some medical conditions, and even pharmaceuticals unique to women , reports the American Headache Society.
Heres a look at how hormones put women at greater risk of headaches, and especially migraines, during various phases of their lives.
Why Estrogen Is So Important
Most of us are familiar with the role estrogen plays in our reproductive and sexual health. But did you know that estrogen levels also influence our bone density, appetite, and mood, among a host of other things?
This sex hormone is actually responsible for helping to support so many systems in our bodies. And when its out of balance, we can experience such a wide range of symptoms.
Estrogen is actually needed for proper bone development in both males and females. And in adults, estrogen is critical in maintaining bone strength.
This is why its so common for women of menopausal age or with hypothalamic amenorrhea to suffer from osteoporosis or low bone density.
Skin cells also contain estrogen receptors. And estrogen has been shown to actually help modulate certain skin cells which help maintain skin elasticity.
Estrogen can also regulate appetite in a similar manner as the hormone leptin.
This sex hormone actually helps the brain to determine if the body needs more energy . And this will directly impact hunger signals depending on what our bodies need.
Estrogen has also been shown to increase serotonin receptors in the brain, which helps to regulate mood and produce more feel-good endorphins.
I could write an entire blog post about the effects that estrogen has on our bodies not directly related to reproduction.
But with these few examples, I hope you are starting to get an understanding of how important estrogen is to our general health and wellbeing.
What Is A Migraine With Aura
Not all migraines are the same, and they largely fall into two main categories:
- Migraine without aura
- Migraine with aura
Menstrual migraines are a subtype that can fall into either category.
According to the American Migraine Foundation, about one-quarter of those who have migraines also experience aura. Aura is a series of visual and sensory changes that may include any and all of the following:
- Inability to speak clearly
- Seeing black dots, zig zags or other unusual visual patterns
- Tingling and numbness on one side of the body
These changes may happen right before or during a migraine attack and may last anywhere from 10 minutes to a half-hour. No matter how long it lasts, aura is an unmistakable warning notice that a migraine is imminent.
The American Migraine Foundation reports that women younger than age 45 who have migraine with aura are already at higher risk for ischemic stroke. These women may be more likely to form blood clots due to inflammation, abnormalities in coagulation and dysfunction of the blood vessels.
For women who suffer from migraines with aura, taking combined oral contraceptives heightens their stroke risk even more. Its specifically the hormone estrogen in the oral contraceptive that can cause a stroke. âEstrogen has properties that can cause your blood to clot easier,â Rao says.
Blood clots have the potential to form in an artery that supplies blood to the brain. When the clot prevents or blocks blood flow to the brain, it can cause a stroke.
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What You Can Do To Prevent Hormone Imbalance Headaches
It may take a while before you find the right treatment option for you. Closely observing the patterns of your headaches will reveal the causes.
Here are five tips to help prevent hormone imbalance headaches:
What Are Irregular Periods
Most women have menstrual cycles that last between 21 and 35 days. Up to one quarter of women experience irregular periods. This includes having periods that are shorter or longer than usual or periods that are lighter or heavier than usual. Some women who have irregular periods may experience abdominal cramping or a lack of ovulation. Amenorrhea is a medical term that refers to an absence of periods for at least 3 months even though a woman is not pregnant. Menorrhagia is the term that means excessive menstrual bleeding. Dysmenorrhea refers to pain and cramping during periods. Prolonged menstrual bleeding involves periods in which bleeding routinely lasts for 8 days or longer. Oligomenorrhea is a condition in which periods occur infrequently or more than every 35 days. See your doctor if you believe hormonal imbalance is affecting your menstrual cycle.
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Causes Of Low Estrogen In Women
There are several potential causes of low estrogen in women, but the most common is menopause, which means you’ve stopped having your period.
Perimenopause, the body’s natural transition to menopause, usually begins in your 40s, but it can start earlier or later for some women. During this time, your estrogen levels fluctuate and can be high and low. The average length of perimenopause is 4 years, but it can last longer.
Other causes of low estrogen can include:
surgical removal of the ovaries
A womans estrogen levels rise and fall throughout her menstrual cycle. But unusually low levels may lead to irregular or missed periods and problems with fertility.
Some women with low estrogen levels may also experience a lower sex drive. And low levels of this hormone may also affect vaginal pH levels, leading to dryness, pain during sex, and potential urinary problems.
How Can I Increase My Estrogen Naturally
Foods and supplements that contain ingredients similar to estrogen may help boost your levels. Speak to your provider before starting any regimen to increase your estrogen.
Foods that contain phytoestrogens
Phytoestrogens are plant-based estrogens. Some studies suggest that eating foods that contain phytoestrogens helps with menopause symptoms like hot flashes. Some phytoestrogens may help promote heart health, bone health and skin elasticity. More research is needed to know for sure.
Foods that contain phytoestrogens include:
Supplements that contain phytoestrogens
The FDA doesnt regulate the safety and effectiveness of supplements, so its important to check with your provider before taking supplements. Some supplements contain phytoestrogens similar to the ones found in foods and may help manage symptoms associated with low estrogen:
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Migraine Menopause And Hrt
In medical terms, menopause is defined by a womans last natural period. However, we generally also use menopause to describe the time in life when periods become irregular and hot flushes occur. These symptoms result from changes in the ageing ovaries and can start around ten years before a womans last menstrual period. Headaches are common during this time, affecting over 90% of women.
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Oestrogen Drop Off Headaches:
- In relation to the menstrual cycle described above, an oestrogen drop off headache usually occurs just before the bleed starts or just as the bleed starts. A headache may also occur around ovulation time due to the oestrogen surge and consequent drop off.
- Symptoms that may accompany an oestrogen drop-off headache include:
- Feeling emotional
- Hot flushes and/or sweats
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Low Estrogen Symptom #: Headaches
These days, headaches are pretty common. We spend so much time on the computer with bad posture, hunched over our smartphones, or stressed out from a long commute.
So random headaches that come and go are almost expected in our modern world.
But headaches that come at certain times during your cycle could be a symptom of low estrogen.
Headaches specifically migraines are two to three times more common in women than in men. And if you thought womens fluctuating hormones might be the reason behind that statistic, youd be correct!
Estrogen, among other hormones, can actually influence neurotransmitter systems in our brain that tell us if were feeling pain or not. And when estrogen is low, that pain signaling can increase, giving us a headache.
This is why headaches are often a common symptom of PMS. Your estrogen is the lowest right before your period, which can cause headaches.
Estrogen can also influence headaches because of its impact on serotonin levels. When estrogen is low, serotonin is also likely to be low. And low serotonin levels have been shown to contribute to changes in our muscles that can cause migraine and tension headaches.
If youre someone who gets frequent headaches, especially around your the start of your period, getting checked for an estrogen deficiency is a good idea.
And if you are struggling with these hormonal headaches, my fellow womens health advocate, Dr. Jolene Brighten, wrote a great article on some natural remedies you can try.
Stop Overtraining And Undereating
You probably know how passionate I am about helping women heal their bodies from overtraining and undereating!
And unfortunately, hormonal imbalances, including low estrogen, are just another symptom of this all too common phenomenon.
Training too hard and for too long is a huge stressor on our bodies.
And when you combine overtraining with not consuming enough calories, hormone imbalances are bound to show up.
Stress and the inflammatory cytokines produced from constant, strenuous exercise actually down-regulate your sex hormones. This can lead to symptoms of low estrogen, along with a variety of other hormonal imbalances.
If you think you might be overtraining, heres an article I wrote on some of the classic signs to watch out for.
And if you need help shifting your mindset and routine from a pattern of overtraining and undereating to one that is more health promoting, Im here to help!
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Survey Studies Investigating Menstrual
Four survey-based studies were included in our review, and all were found to support Somervilles estrogen withdrawal theory. However, these were graded to be low-tier evidence due to possible reporting biases. Mattssons study surveyed 728 women and concluded that 75% of these women reported migraines occurring within 2 to +3 days of menstruation . However, this study surveyed patients ranging in age from 40 to 74, suggesting a significant risk of reporting and recall bias, particularly for postmenopausal women being asked about their prior menstrual symptoms. Similarly, Stewart surveyed 81 menstruating women between ages 1855 that self-recorded their migraines and menstrual cycles over 98 days . Stewart noted an increased incidence of migraine perimenstruallydays 0 and 1 had OR of 2.04 and days 1 and 2 had OR of 1.80 .
What Causes And Triggers Hormonal Headaches
Many women with migraines report headaches before or during menstruation. Also, because of the changes in oestrogen and progesterone around ovulation, some women report headaches around the middle of the cycle too.
The build-up of oestrogen leading up to your period and/or the significant drop in oestrogen just before your period are the main causes of hormonal headaches. Also, insufficient production of progesterone after ovulation and leading up to your period may be contributing to your headache problem.
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What Are The Key Points About Managing Perimenopausal Women With Migraine
- Perimenopausal women with no history of migraine aura may benefit from continuous combined hormonal contraception until age 50
- Migraine aura does not contraindicate HRT
- Use non-oral bio-identical estrogen
- Use the lowest estrogen dose that effectively controls vasomotor symptoms
- Where progestogen is required continuous delivery is recommended, with preparations such as:
- levonorgestrel intrauterine system
- transdermal norethisterone
- micronised progesterone
The Bottom Line On Low Estrogen
Symptoms of low estrogen are becoming increasingly common in young, pre-menopausal women.
Everything from night sweats, depression, vaginal dryness, headaches, and irregular periods can be traced back to low estrogen.
And because estrogen is responsible for far more than just regulating our periods and enabling us to get pregnant, it makes sense that the symptoms of low estrogen would be far-reaching.
Overcoming low estrogen and reducing your symptoms is possible.
Working with a qualified practitioner who can help you determine your estrogen levels and how to correct hormonal imbalances is key to getting the best results.
You can also work on other lifestyle factors such as reducing your intense training, eating more, managing your stress, and upping your carb and/or fat intake.
All of these seemingly simple changes can be the building blocks for reversing low estrogen and fully healing your hormones.
After reading this post, do you think low estrogen could be a cause of your symptoms? What are some lifestyle changes you plan to make to reduce some stress in your life? Let me know in the comments!
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What Are Hormonal Headaches
In perimenopause, hormone headaches are usually due to a fluctuation in oestrogen levels combined with a reduction in progesterone production.
Many factors contribute to headaches for both men and women, including family history and age. Women, however, often notice a relationship between headaches and hormonal changes. The hormones oestrogen and progesterone play key roles in regulating the menstrual cycle and may also affect headache-related chemicals in the brain.
Having steady oestrogen and progesterone levels may improve headaches, while experiencing oestrogen and progesterone levels that dip or change can make headaches worse. Though fluctuating hormone levels can influence headache patterns, youâre not completely at the mercy of your hormones. These hormone-related headaches can be controlled and treated.
Estrogen And Hair Loss: The Basics
Estrogen is one of the most important female sex hormones. Its responsible for several aspects of your health, including controlling your menstrual cycle and promoting optimal brain, bone, heart and skin health.
Before menopause, your body produces three forms of estrogen: estradiol, estriol and estrone. During menopause, your body stops producing estradiol and estriol, and only produces estrone.
Some women develop menopausal hair loss as they enter menopause in their 40s, 50s or 60s. Experts believe that reduced levels of estrogen and other hormones may play a role in menopausal hair loss.
Research shows that estrogen is linked to hair growth. For example, during pregnancy, when estrogen levels are high, its common for hair density to increase, with a reduced level of shedding. However, pregnancy hair loss could be common as well.
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Can Too Much Estrogen Cause Migraines
What Is Estrogen?Estrogen is one of the two main female sex hormones. It is responsible for the development of secondary sex characters in females and also plays a major role in reproduction and regulation of menstrual cycle. Although it is a hormone associated with reproductive organs but its effects can be observed all over the body especially in bones, heart, blood vessels, breasts and brain. How Can One Have High Levels Of Estrogen?High levels of estrogen can develop naturally due to hormone imbalance issues but it can also be caused by taking certain medication. For example: HRT medications can be cause high levels of estrogen. Elevated levels of estrogen can contribute to the development of symptoms like:
- Hormonal headaches, especially migraines.
- Fibrocystic lumps in your breast.
- Irregular periods.
- You can take HRT in the form of tablets
- HRT is also taken through implants, in which small pellets of estrogen are placed under your skin. The procedure is performed under local anesthesia.
- It also comes in a cream form and estrogen is directly absorbed by the skin.
- It can also be taken through patches that you simply stick to your skin.
Whats The Outlook For Menopause Migraines
Perimenopause migraines are triggered by alterations in hormone levels. Once these hormone changes have settled after the menopause, most people find their migraines go away. This can, however, take many months or even a few years. Effective treatments are available to manage the symptoms and reduce the number of attacks you experience. If your migraines are caused by something other than your changing hormones, its possible that symptoms will continue after the menopause and require ongoing treatment.
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Sex Differences In Headache: Imaging Studies
In addition to epidemiologic evidence of sex differences in migraine, brain MRI studies support both structural and functional sex differences in those with migraine . Specifically, Maleki et al. used high-field MRI to compare age-matched male and female migraineurs to healthy controls. Female migraineurs were found to have thicker posterior insula and precuneus cortices as compared with both male migraineurs and healthy controls of both sexes. However, no difference in cortical thickness was found between male migraineurs and male healthy controls. Furthermore, using functional MRI , noxious thermal stimulation produced stronger responses in areas such as the amygdala and parahippocampus, in female as compared with male participants with migraine.
Maleki et al.âs study is of particular interest as the anatomical difference found in the female migraineur is contributable neither to the female sex alone nor the migraine disease state alone . Therefore, one can theorize that a combination of being female and having migraine may lead to changes in brain anatomy and sensory responsiveness and result in differences in migraine characteristics, . However, as Malekiâs study cannot determine the directionality of the association between the anatomical difference among the sexes and the migraine disease state, it is also possible that those with a specific anatomical variant together with being of the female sex can account for an increased risk of developing migraine.