Menstrual migraine: How to manage them and gain clarity

Something to keep in mind is that there is a distinct difference between actually having a menstrual migraine and your period cycle affecting your already existing migraines.
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During your time of the month you can experience different symptoms . Those can include bloating, gas, cramps, and acne, not to mention the cost of related period products to deal with a period. After all of this when you think I can not deal with one more thing, and you get a migraine. Migraines are painful and can put a further stop on any planned activities. These menstrual migraines usually occur within either the 2 days leading up to your period, or it happens in the first 3 days.

Now for your typical migraine, until now, we still know what is the cause of it. A fact you might find interesting is that 1 in 5 women get them while for men it is 1 in 15. And the reason for this being so is due to the fact women get periods! So in this article we will discuss the whys and what we can do to fight off menstrual migraines.

First thing we need to answer, is it a headache or a migraine?

To explain in simple terms, migraines are much more severe than headaches, so therefore it is easier to diagnose. Now to get into how migraines are different when compared to headaches.  For one, migraines are generally localized pain which starts at a particular point. Other symptoms usually accompany prior to the start of a migraine by roughly 30 minutes, that includes a change in taste, smell, numbness/tingling in the hands and/or face, brain fog and confusion, also can experience flashes of light and get unusual lines in your vision.

Is it a menstrual migraine or not?

Woman holding the sides of her head in pain. Is it it normal headache or a menstrual migraine?

Something to keep in mind is that there is a distinct difference between actually having a menstrual migraine and your period cycle affecting your already existing migraines. A menstrual migraine can happen when there is a change in your hormone levels. This change in hormones is natural, and researchers have found a link with a decrease in estrogen levels and your menstrual migraine symptom severity.

Also, there is a change in prostaglandin levels as well. It is normally higher for women who get more painful periods, and is associated with menstrual migraines. Around 50% of women who already suffer from existing migraines say that their periods have a direct effect on them and this is very likely due to the changes in their hormone levels.

Are there any other causes?

There is more than one cause that may lead to hormone triggered headaches and the fault does not just lie with periods. The NHS also states that taking oral contraceptives can be the culprit in some cases and can sometimes make them even worse. But this is not always the case, some women feel that their headaches improve when taking contraceptives. So what you need to do is to listen to your body and see how it reacts to a contraceptive, since every woman’s body is different from the next. It can also be triggered from other factors, such as early pregnancies and menopause.

How to tell the difference?

Woman rubbing her temples

It might be difficult to know if you just have a normal migraine or a menstrual migraine, but you can try to monitor it for a while. So we recommend for you to keep a diary for a period of at least 3 months, to track the frequency of when your migraines occur in regards to your period. Since there is not a test which can clearly diagnose and differentiate normal and menstrual migraines, it will be very good for you to know when these “attacks” happen and if there are any external triggers.

As mentioned earlier in this article, if they tend to happen within the 2 days up to or first 3 days of your period cycle a couple of times then it is probably menstrual migraines. Many people who suffer from migraines generally forget to document in a journal how many times they occur. So be sure to track any triggers and symptoms whenever your expected time for your cycle approaches.


As we mentioned earlier migraines are a more severe version of headaches, while as the name suggests you experience a pain in the head when you get headaches. Migraine symptoms include a pounding headache on one side, and then nausea and vomiting can follow. You can even get sensitivity from bright lights and loud sounds. These symptoms can last for up to 72 hours if not treated with medication.

How to deal with them?

If you experience really bad migraines and the pain is almost debilitating, to the point where it negatively impacts your life, then ask your healthcare professional about anti-migraine medication, and check if your contraceptives are making them worse. Painkillers treatment, such as Ibuprofen should start roughly 2 days before your period and continue to take it throughout. Estrogen supplements are also a potential solution.

The NHS recommends regardless if your migraines are menstrual related or not, to eat small snacks to keep your blood sugar up throughout the day, limit external stress as much as you can, and to regulate your sleep schedule. Common ways in order to manage your migraine symptoms includes:

  • An ice pack covered with a towel and place it on the painful area
  • As mentioned earlier anti inflammatory medication like Ibuprofen and naproxen, as well as estrogen supplements (e.g. estrogen patches).
  • There are also prescription medications called triptans and gepants, which can be used for treating pain, menstrual cramps, fever.
  • Try to make sure to get enough sleep everyday roughly 6 to 8 hours, especially when your period is near.
  • Try your hand at exercising, we are not saying you have to, say, run a marathon but only moderate exercise. But you need to be careful since strenuous activity can be a trigger for migraines.
  • Moderate exercise such as riding a bike, taking a walk, or even swimming, all of these can help you with future migraines.
  • If there are foods that trigger your migraines, then it is best to avoid those around your time of the month.


A woman writing into her diary

Now to sum up everything talked about in this article so far. You should keep a diary to keep track of when your migraines occur and if they do actually happen around the time of your period. Review what you eat and keep in mind if your migraines seem to trigger after you eat something. And check with your healthcare professional if you need, let’s say, an estrogen supplement for your menstrual migraines.

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