Menopause and Migraines: Menopause and Chronic Conditions Series

Published: 02/11/2023

Menopause is a natural phase in a woman's life, signalling the end of her reproductive years. Along with this transition comes a myriad of physical and emotional changes, and for many women, migraines become a prominent part of the menopausal experience.

What is a migraine?

A migraine is defined as a very bad headache, usually focused on one side of the head with or without aura. They can last from a few hours to a few days. They may be accompanied by nausea and/or vomiting; sensitivity to light; dizziness or numbness. Some people may experience visual disturbances like zigzag lines or flashing lights, these are known as “auras”. 

Migraines and Hormones

Women are three times more likely than men to suffer from migraines and they become more common around age 40 years. Hormones are believed to play a part in exacerbating migraines and often follow the menstrual cycle and may be the reason for the disparity of prevalence between men and women.

The rise and fall of Oestrogen will often dictate the frequency of migraines. Prior to menstruation when Oestrogen levels drop, there may be an increase in the likelihood of developing a migraine. During pregnancy, when Oestrogen levels remain high throughout the nine months often means the individual stays free from migraines until after birth when Oestrogen levels drop back to normal and the cycle returns, unfortunately often means the return of the migraines.

Perimenopause is another time when hormones affect the frequency of migraines. During this time Oestrogen levels fluctuate, sometimes high, others low. As a result, the individual may have more sporadic occurrences of their migraines. Once periods stop and post-menopause occurs, many individuals notice an improvement in their migraine frequency.

Managing Migraines

The length of the perimenopause differs from person to person, but the average is around four years, which is a long time to endure these debilitating events. There are a few things that can be tried to help manage the symptoms.

Over-the-counter painkillers like Ibuprofen and Paracetamol can help with mild symptoms and prescribed medications can be used for more severe attacks. However, it is important not to take pain medication too often as research has shown a link between the overuse of analgesia and an exacerbation of headaches and migraines.

Other ways to manage symptoms include ice packs or cold cloths on the forehead or back of the neck, relaxation techniques and meditation, maintaining hydration, ensuring adequate sleep, getting regular exercise, maintaining a healthy diet, avoiding stress where possible and minimising alcohol and caffeine.

Managing Migraines with HRT

During peri and menopause difficult vasomotor symptoms like hot flushes and night sweats can severely affect migraines. Hormone Replacement Therapy, (HRT) can help control these symptoms and aid in the management of migraines. The British Menopause Society advise to avoid taking oral HRT and use transdermal delivery methods like patches and gels at the lowest doses to control symptoms. 

Individuals who are unable to take HRT for medical or personal reasons can be prescribed an SSRI, antidepressant medication like Escitalopram or an SNRI antidepressant like Venlafaxine. 

Migraines and Work

Migraines can significantly affect a woman's ability to carry out her professional responsibilities, especially in an age where many jobs require prolonged screen time. The visual disturbances, sensitivity to light, and throbbing pain associated with migraines can make focusing on a computer screen or any work-related task challenging. With so many symptoms impacting the working day it is not surprising that 10% of women end up leaving their jobs due to debilitating menopause symptoms when in reality, they should be met with understanding and support from work.

1. Communication with your Manager: It is vital for women experiencing menopausal migraines to open lines of communication with their managers and employers. Sharing your experience with migraines and discussing their potential impact on your work can help your employer understand the challenges you're facing. 

2. Regular Screen Breaks: For women who spend a significant portion of their workday in front of a computer screen, it's essential to take regular breaks. Screen breaks can reduce eye strain and the likelihood of triggering a migraine. Here's how you can effectively incorporate screen breaks into your work routine:

  • The 20-20-20 rule: Every 20 minutes, take a 20-second break to look at something 20 feet away. This helps relax your eye muscles.
  • Step away from your desk: Stand up, stretch, and move around for a few minutes. This can improve blood circulation and reduce the risk of developing a migraine.
  • Hydrate and snack: Staying well-hydrated and having a healthy snack can help maintain your energy levels and prevent migraines.

3. Implementing Workplace Adjustments: If your migraines are particularly debilitating, you may want to explore workplace adjustments. These can include flexible work hours, remote work options, or reduced screen time if possible. 

myTamarin Support

If you would like to discuss anything around menopause book a 1-1 with a menopause expert at myTamarin via your company landing page or app.

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