Migraines May Worsen During Menopause


Women in menopause have more migraines than pre-menopausal women, study finds.

New research confirms what women with migraine headaches have told their doctors for years: migraine attacks seem to get worse in the years before and during menopause.

“In women who have migraine, headaches increase by 50 to 60 percent when they go through the perimenopause and menopausal time periods,” said Dr. Vincent Martin, professor of medicine and co-director of the Headache and Facial Pain Program at the University of Cincinnati.

The new finding, Martin said, “basically confirms what women have been telling us physicians for decades. We finally have some evidence.”

The perimenopausal period is the time when the body is transitioning to menopause – when monthly periods end. Perimenopause can last several years, and is often marked by irregular periods, hot flashes and sleep problems. Perimenopause can begin in the 40s, and menopause occurs, on average, at age 51, according to the U.S. National Institute on Aging.

Martin and his colleagues surveyed just over 3,600 women, aged 35 to 65, in a mailed questionnaire that asked about their menopausal status and whether they had migraines and, if they did, how often. The women were classified as having high frequency headaches if they had 10 or more headache days a month.

The women in the study were about evenly divided among the three groups: premenopausal, perimenopausal and postmenopausal.

While 8 percent of the premenopausal group had frequent headaches, 12.2 percent of the perimenopausal group did along with 12 percent of the menopausal women.

At first, the results might seem puzzling, since experts know that younger women often get migraines right before and at the beginning of the menstrual cycle, said study researcher Dr. Richard Lipton, director of the Montefiore Medical Center Headache Center and professor of neurology at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, in New York City.

“Women with migraine are most likely to get them a couple days before and through the first few days of their cycle, when estrogen and progesterone both fall. The idea that women who have fewer periods [during perimenopause] would get more migraines seems paradoxical,” said Lipton.

However, he said, experts believe decreasing estrogen levels explain the headaches in both cases.

The study provides welcome information on the problem of migraines, according to Dr. Elizabeth Loder, chief of the division of headache and pain in the department of neurology at Brigham & Women’s Hospital in Boston.

“I think this study is particularly valuable because they went to the trouble of carefully determining what phase the women were in,” she said.

Loder agreed that the study validates what patients have been telling doctors for years. Its size also lends credibility.

For relief, Martin suggested, women could ask their headache specialist about adjusting or switching their migraine medicine.


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