It's bad enough that once a month women have to deal with unpleasant period symptoms like cramps, mood swings, and bloating, but if you find that your head begins to pound just before you start — or shortly after — your hormones are probably to blame for that, too.
"Most women who suffer from headaches during their period are suffering from menstrual migraines," G. Thomas Ruiz, MD, an ob-gyn at MemorialCare Orange Coast Medical Center in Fountain Valley, CA, told POPSUGAR. These headaches are triggered by a drop in hormone levels (primarily estrogen), which also jump-starts your flow. Here, experts explain how to tell if you have a menstrual migraine and what you can do to find relief.
What's the Difference Between a Headache and a Migraine?
"A migraine is a type of headache," Medhat Mikhael, MD, pain management specialist and medical director of the non-operative program at the Spine Health Center at MemorialCare Orange Coast Medical Center, told POPSUGAR. But there are certain characteristics that help distinguish a migraine from a run-of-the-mill headache. "Migraines are unilateral, pulsating in nature, and associated with one or more of the following: photophobia (sensitivity to light), phonophobia (sensitivity to sound), and nausea with or without vomiting," Dr. Mikhael said.
Migraines are also more common in women, a study in The Journal of Headache and Pain found. Women have a 43 percent lifetime incidence of migraines, compared with only 18 percent in men. Before puberty, migraines affect both sexes equally. It's not until after a woman gets her period and starts experiencing these estrogen fluctuations that they become much more susceptible to migraines than men.
How to Get Relief From Menstrual Migraines
If you suffer from menstrual migraines, talk to your doctor to see if changing or adjusting your birth control could help relieve some of the symptoms. "The best way to prevent menstrual migraines is to be on a low-dose birth control pill and to not take the placebo pills," Dr. Ruiz said. This will essentially lengthen your luteal phase, the time after ovulation and before your period when your estrogen levels are highest, helping to prevent menstrual migraines and other PMS symptoms, according to research published in Therapeutic Advances in Neurological Disorders.
If you prefer a different form of birth control or aren't on birth control at all, Dr. Ruiz suggests increasing your caffeine intake, which may help reduce the pain. In fact, the National Headache Foundation states that when caffeine is taken in addition to an OTC pain reliever like aspirin or acetaminophen, the pain-relieving effect is increased by 40 percent. Just make sure to keep your caffeine consumption to 200 mg a day or less (about a 12-ounce cup of coffee), as too much caffeine can lead to withdrawal.