Self-Care Tips For When Migraines Strike During Your Period

The phrase "period pain" usually elicits thoughts of uncomfortable lower abdominal cramps. But for many menstruators, period pain comes in the form of throbbing headaches. In fact, 60% of women who suffer from general migraines also experience menstrual-related migraines, according to the National Headache Foundation.

Menstrual migraines, sometimes called hormone headaches, are caused by hormone fluctuations in the body. Cleveland Clinic explains that estrogen drops to its lowest level right before your period, triggering migraines that can start up to three days before menstruation. Then, these migraines can last for as little as a few hours or as long as several days.

Like other types of migraines, menstrual migraines tend to be more debilitating than regular headaches, including symptoms such as nausea, mood changes, aura, and sensitivity to stimuli (such as bright light, sound, and smell), per Medical News Today. In short, migraines can feel like a double punch when you may already be experiencing other period-related discomforts. But by taking the right self-care steps, dealing with menstrual migraines doesn't have to be such a pain.

Tackle stress before your period starts

Life can be stressful, and for menstruators, stress can sneak up just in time for your period. This is especially true for people who experience premenstrual syndrome (PMS), which can manifest as anxiety, sadness, irritability, and trouble sleeping, according to Mayo Clinic. On top of that, Cleveland Clinic notes that stress can be a trigger for migraines, meaning it could make migraines during your period even worse.

Engaging in de-stressing self-care may treat both PMS mood swings and menstrual migraines. The American Migraine Foundation recommends tackling stress by starting with your schedule. Eliminate to-do list items that distract you from your true priorities. And speaking of priorities, don't forget to pencil in time for yourself and your loved ones. Some me-time or quality time with friends or family may be just what you need to get away from daily stressors.

Then, ease your mind with meditation, yoga, or journaling in a style that is the best fit for you. While these practices offer benefits all month long, it's especially important to stick to a de-stress ritual before and during your period, when migraines are most likely to strike.

Watch what you eat

Feeding your body nourishing, healthy foods can be one of the most effective forms of self-care. And if you experience menstrual migraines, it's extra important to watch what you eat. According to DrLam Coaching, certain foods can trigger migraines. These include glutamate-rich foods like milk, soy, eggs, and wheat. Overloading your system with caffeine can also trigger migraines in some people. Keeping a food diary and limiting the intake of foods that seem to correlate with migraine attacks may also ease hormone headaches.

Besides reducing migraine-triggering foods, it's also critical to feed your body essential nutrients. The American Migraine Foundation suggests taking magnesium supplements (or eating a diet rich in magnesium) to prevent menstrual-related migraines. If a migraine has already come on and you're feeling nauseous as a result, try sipping some ginger tea. Ginger has been shown to both ease nausea (via National Library of Medicine) and treat migraines, according to a research article published in Phytotherapy Research (via Wiley Online Library). Once your tummy troubles have subsided, try munching on broccoli, cabbage, bok choy, and other cruciferous vegetables. Dr. Wynne Brown explained to Everyday Health that these veggies contain phytoestrogens that can be beneficial for those who suffer from menstrual-related migraines.

Get moving

When you're on your period and suffering from debilitating headaches, strapping on your sneakers and going for a run is probably the last thing you want to think about. But exercising could be the key to preventing migraine attacks. There's already some evidence that exercise could balance your hormones. And according to a study published in The Journal of Headache and Pain, physical activity can also ward off migraines (via National Library of Medicine).

However, this self-care tip must be incorporated into your regular routine for it to work. Working out only when you're at risk for developing migraines — like around the time of your period — could actually provoke a migraine, rather than prevent it. Frequent exercise all month long is necessary to reap the pain-fighting benefits. Then, if you feel up to working out during your period, go for it. According to Garden OB/GYN, exercise increases endorphins in the body — which can help distract you from menstrual pains and discomfort.

Take a rest

Rest can be the ultimate form of self-care, and it's vital when menstrual migraines strike too. One article published in Current Pain and Headache Reports explores the connection between sleep and migraines, stating that sleep stops migraines in their tracks (via National Library of Medicine). Not only that, but keeping a regular sleep schedule may help prevent migraines.

If you deal with menstrual migraines each month, prioritize rest. You can do this by creating a relaxation zone free of common migraine triggers. suggests using blackout curtains to keep bright lights out of your space. Limit noise as much as possible, closing the door and using earplugs if necessary. Then, adjust the thermostat to a cool temperature — heat can aggravate headaches for some.

And if your gut tells you to call in sick so you can rest, listen to it. While telling your boss that you're dealing with menstrual migraines might seem embarrassing, it should be treated like any other illness or health issue. Lara Owen, a researcher of menstrual workplace policies, told ABC Everyday, "If you are straightforward and approach it as a normal part of life, [your boss] will follow your lead."

Stock your medicine cabinet

Healthy habits can go a long way in mitigating hormone headaches, but sometimes the best course of action is to try over-the-counter or prescription medications (with your doctor's approval, of course). According to WebMD, menstrual migraines may be prevented by using nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) or triptans. Hormonal birth control pills taken continuously, eliminating monthly periods, may also prevent menstrual migraines by regulating hormone levels. However, Healthline notes that some people who experience migraine with aura, or visual or sensory disturbances, could experience more frequent migraines after taking estrogen birth control. It's best to discuss your options with your doctor to find the best fit.

For those who suffer from both menstrual and non-menstrual migraines, there are several other treatment options, too, such as antidepressant medications, some anti-seizure medications, beta-blockers, and even devices that stimulate nerves in the head. There's no need to grin and bear it when it comes to menstrual migraines. With proper self-care, plus treatment approved by your doctor, migraines during your period don't have to be such a pain.