Hormones and headaches are definitely connected. Very bad headaches, also known as migraines, can occur during a young woman's menstrual cycle as well. This is because the two main hormones that govern a woman's menstrual cycle can control the blood vessels in the brain as well (remember that hormones are “produced” in the brain.) Specifically, estrogen dilates blood vessels, while progesterone constricts them. As the blood vessels go through these cycles of dilation and constriction, the brain begins to react to the irregularity of the blood flow. The result is an intense headache.
The fluctuation of estrogen and progesterone during perimenopause can cause a similar reaction in blood vessels, resulting in perimenopause headaches. Statistics report that about 30% of women will get perimenopause headaches, especially if they had “menstrual headaches”, a family history of migraine, or eye problems.
What can trigger perimenopause headaches?
There are many triggers for perimenopause headaches. The triggers often vary from patient to patient. Some common triggers include lack of sleep, stress, weather changes, strong smells, bright or flashing lights, and irregular eating habits (ex. skipping breakfast.) Sometimes food can be a trigger as well. Processed meats, fast foods, preserved food products, and soy products can trigger headaches.
How do you identify perimenopause headaches?
Usually a perimenopause headache begins with the sensation of pain on one side of the head, though some women report that the pain can begin on both sides of the head. The pain slowly begins to become more intense as it spreads. Soon, the entire head is throbbing from the pain. It is usually very uncomfortable, and can sometimes last for a couple of hours up to two to three days.
The pain is often made worse if physical activity or movement is made or if the trigger intensifies (ex. a stronger smell.) The pain itself often makes the patient sensitive to light, loud sounds, and strong smells. It is also often accompanied by sweating of the hands and feet. Sometimes the pain can lead to vomiting or nausea
Women usually report two types of perimenopause headaches. The first is a headache without an aura, which is a simply an intensely painful headache that can be accompanied by nausea and sensitivity to light. Usually headaches without an aura can be heralded by crashing fatigue or mood swings the day before. The second type, a headache with an aura is an intensely painful headache that is accompanied by blurred vision or the illusion that objects have blurred edges and bright shimmering lights surrounding them. Sometimes this altered visual perception begins before the headache itself.
What can be done about perimenopause headaches?
Because of the length of time and intensity of pain of perimenopause headaches, women are often left incapable of being able to carry on with work or carry out some everyday routines. It is recommended that women practice techniques which can alleviate the pain before it intensifies, as well as staying away from possible triggers. Calming and breathing exercises like the ones found in yoga, tai chi, and meditation can also help if practiced regularly.
Finally, be sure to visit your doctor about your headaches every time you have an unusually long or an unusually painful episode. If your headaches are becoming worse over time or if you are unable to sleep because of the pain, then it is best to have a doctor diagnose the situation.
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