It seems rather unfair that cramps, other aches and pains, mood swings and all manner of other bothersome symptoms seem to be our lot and something that women are supposed to just learn to live with. So it is with menstrual headaches as well; are they also something that women are expected to pretty much live with?

Why do menstrual headaches occur?

We know that a vast majority of migraine sufferers are female and as many as 60 to 70% women who get migraines say that their headaches are related to menstruation.

It is thought that the female hormones estrogen and progesterone play a role in menstrual migraines and headaches. When the estrogen hormone is at its lowest ebb (typically before the start of a period), this is perhaps what triggers the headaches.menstrual headaches

Studies have shown that birth control pills and hormone therapy can also trigger menstrual headaches; particularly higher dose estrogen pills. Low dose estrogen pills and pills containing progesterone however, are seen to be less exacerbating of the condition.

Since the headaches are triggered by hormones, the symptoms may extend more than just headaches. They are often accompanied by other symptoms such as nausea or vomiting as well. There could be increased sensitivity to loud sounds and bright lights as well.

What can you do about menstrual headaches?

Dietary changes

Menstrual migraines or headaches are often triggered by something that you ate or drank. Caffeine or red wine are seen to be triggers at times, so avoiding these particularly some days before you expect your period. It is also important to eat nutritious and regular meals. An empty stomach or abnormal sugar levels can also trigger a headache. Lowering salt intake is also recommended.

Treating underlying causes

It could be that the headaches are caused not merely by the hormone levels falling and rising, but could be caused due to other underlying health conditions. For instance, treating high blood pressure can help manage the headaches as well. Managing and lowering stress is another important factor for avoiding these headaches. Since stress is a known headache trigger, you can lower incidence of the headache by lowering stress.


Over the counter pain medications are effective for battling menstrual headaches in a majority of cases. Non steroidal anti inflammatory drugs such as Advil, Mortin, Orudis, Nalfon, Relafen, etc. are effective against such headaches. Sometimes prescription drugs such as beta-blockers, anticonvulsants, calcium channel blockers and ergotamine drugs in lower doses may also be required. Diuretics are also sometimes prescribed to resolve the bloating that may trigger and accompany the headaches. As a last resort, hormone based drugs such as Lupron may be prescribed.

Alternative treatments

Complementary and alternative medical treatments such as chiropractic treatments, acupressure and acupuncture; are known to help many women overcome or at least control menstrual headaches. Learning relaxation techniques can help lower stress and consequently may help in managing or preventing headaches. Aromatherapy is also known to help in a similar way and could be another CAM treatment.