The Link Between Migraine & Menstruation

By Mizgin

Did you know that around 50% of women who suffer with migraines say that their menstrual cycle affects their migraines?

I was surprised to find this out and it helped me put things into perspective for myself. I did some research into the link between migraines and menstruation when my doctor asked me to keep a diary, in order to notice any patterns or trends. Interestingly, it was only then that I realised that my migraines were either triggered or worsened just before and during my periods. 

Studies suggest that migraines can be worse just before we get our periods due to a natural drop in estrogen levels and the release of prostaglandin, which is a fatty acid that’s a bit like a hormone (please see the chart below for more detail). These are also known as ‘menstrual-associated migraines’ or ‘menstrual migraines’; migraine attacks occur around periods but also occur at other times. For women who suffer from menstrual migraines, there is an onset of migraine a few days before and during the first few days of a period. So, if you’ve been wondering why your migraines are triggered or are particularly worse during ‘that time of the month’, you’re definitely not alone. 


 I’ve also found that some women only ever experience migraines just before their periods; these are called ‘pure menstrual migraines’. This condition means that migraine attacks only occur around periods and at no other times.

Symptoms of menstrual migraines include throbbing pain and nausea. I suffer from severe nausea, and even certain smells and odors make me feel sick. I have heard that some people also suffer from vomiting — but I count myself lucky for not having experienced this! The other symptom that is quite common and that I experience is extreme sensitivity to light and sound. Of course, these are migraine symptoms in general — but they’re triggered (and sometimes are worse) before and during my periods. 

Unfortunately, this isn’t even the end of the list! There are many other horrible symptoms associated with menstrual migraines such as: extreme tiredness/fatigue, worsened acne, general aches and pains, cravings, and so on. These symptoms, when combined with period pains, can be absolutely debilitating. Severe backache, for instance, is something I have suffered with ever since I started having periods. When I am having a migraine attack and a severe backache, it can be impossible for me to continue with my normal daily activities.

On a personal note, I noticed that I also get auras with or without a headache just a few days before my period. During my research, however, I found out that aura isn’t a common symptom for menstrual migraines (lucky me!) Sometimes they’re little bright spots and some other times, they’re bright, blurry zigzag lines — mainly in my left eye. The lines grow larger and larger until they finally disappear in about ten to fifteen minutes. Typically, this is followed by a headache, and finally a migraine during the first few days of my period. 

So, over the last few months, I’ve been trying out different ways to relieve some of the symptoms of my migraines — especially those horrible ones when I am menstruating.

Here are a few tips below; I hope they can be of some benefit to you too. 

1. Magnesium-rich foods & B2 supplements: I’ve found that it helps to eat magnesium rich foods such as bananas and spinach. I have also been considering taking magnesium supplements and see how I get on with those. Vitamin B2 supplements are also thought to help, but I haven’t tried those yet either. I know that some doctors advise women to take pills containing estrogen (i.e. the combined oral contraceptive pill), but for women who experience migraines with aura (such as myself), this is unfortunately not a good option as they significantly increase your stroke risk.

2. Avoid migraine-triggering foods: In addition to the above, I try to avoid foods that worsen my migraines, such as chocolate, although this has been very difficult as I crave chocolate so much during my periods! It’s most important to ensure we are well-hydrated.

3. Get enough rest AND movement: Other tips are to make sure you get enough sleep and get some exercise; I like to go for short walks as much as I can during my periods and worsened migraine attacks, although this isn’t always possible! Sometimes all I want to do is curl up in bed with all the lights turned off — and it’s completely okay to do just that too. 

4. Keep a migraine diary: I also suggest that you keep a diary to track your migraine attacks and your menstrual cycle. Make a note of every migraine attack, the symptoms you are suffering, and which day of your menstrual cycle it coincides with. This will help you better understand your own body; it will also help your doctor understand your situation better in order to guide you more appropriately in terms of treatment and/or medical advice.  

On a final note, please don’t forget to take care of yourself. Period pains are bad enough and they’re much worse for us who also experience migraines at the same time. Self-care is absolutely vital. We are strong, brave and wonderful human beings and we deserve our own love — the love that we so freely give away to others!

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