Why You May Be Getting More Migraines During Your Period

Menstruating is a total pain — literally and metaphorically. You've got the debilitating cramps, the bloating, the gastro issues, the agitation, and the tears because someone ate the last cookie in the cookie jar, among so many other side effects that come with having your period. For some people who menstruate, because the aforementioned blues aren't awful enough, there are headaches too. And not just your run-of-the-mill headaches, but migraine headaches which, if you've never experienced one, can make cramps, mood swings, and all the rest of it seem like no big deal.


According to the Mayo Clinic, a migraine is a headache that's so severe that you can actually feel it throbbing and pulsing in your head. In most cases, it's on one side, but that doesn't mean it can't occur on both sides at the same time. The intensity of it can cause sensitivity to light and sound, nausea, and in severe cases, vision loss. Migraines can also last anywhere from a few hours to a few days.

Although not everyone gets migraines with they get their period, for those who do, it can be excruciating. Here's why it's happening and what you can do to try to lessen their pain.

Menstruation's effects on migraines

According to research by the Cleveland Clinic, 70% of people who experience migraines are women. Of those women, 60% to 70% experience them around or during their periods. For those who only suffer from migraines when they have their period, that's known as menstrual migraines. Research published in The Journal of Headache and Pain has found that less than 10% to 20% of people who menstruate struggle with this type of migraine. The same research pointed to hormones, specifically estrogen, as the reason for these migraines.


"The most common reason for a headache, specifically a migraine headache, is the natural decline in estrogen levels that occurs as the menstrual period begins," OB/GYN Dr. Holly Miller tells Bustle. "This is most noticeable for the two days prior to the start of the menstrual cycle and the first three days of it."

So, no, those headaches during your period aren't just in your head. Well, they are, but they're definitely real, and the drop in estrogen is to blame.

How to prevent menstrual migraines

Although we now know that menstrual headaches are caused by the drop in estrogen levels in the body, a proactive way to prevent these types of headaches is by keeping a schedule. Eating healthy meals at about the same time every day, exercising regularly, and getting enough sleep and roughly the same amount every night can help. These preventative measures aren't just for menstrual migraines but those of all types.


"Change — be it change in sleep schedule, change in altitude, change in hormone levels with menses — may precipitate migraine attacks," pediatric neurologist Amy Gelfand, MD, tells Glamour. "It's very hard to live a life of perfect balance. I worry sometimes that we stigmatize people with migraine by implying that they did something to cause their migraine attack. In reality, migraine is a genetic disease, and attacks may simply happen."

There's also the stigma that it's just a headache and not a big deal. But anyone who's had a migraine will tell you differently.

What to do if prevention doesn't work

When it comes to hormones and how they affect our body, we don't always — if ever — have a say in how they act. Even those of us who suffer from menstrual migraines and do everything we can to prevent the onset of these types of headaches, there's still no guarantee that they won't pop up from time to time. It's in these instances that you should talk to your OB/GYN or GP and discuss with them options to alleviate the struggling.


"I educate them that not all women have headaches during their menstrual cycles," an internist at the division of women's health internal medicine at Mayo Clinic, Dr. Paru David, tells The American Migraine Association. "The number one thing is that you don't need to suffer. We have some treatment options available to help your migraine attacks."

According to Dr. David, there are three possible treatments for those who suffer from menstrual migraines: an acute treatment, which is a pill taken when the migraine attacks; mini-prevention, a pill taken before and during menstruation; then what's called "continuous preventive treatment," a pill that's taken every day to keep those migraines from rearing their evil ways.


We are lucky enough to live in a time where there's a cure, or at least a treatment, for nearly everything. You don't need to suffer or accept that migraines just come every time you have your period. Instead, you can get help and find relief.