How Hormones Can Cause or Contribute to Migraines



Hormones are sometimes portrayed in a lighthearted (if sometimes derogatory) method. They’re positioned as the explanation the pregnant woman cries, {the teenager} recoils in angst, and the premenstrual lady eats ice cream straight from the gallon. Results on temper apart, nevertheless, hormones are important for all times. Amongst many issues, they’re additionally the explanation a being pregnant might be sustained, why children develop, and the way our our bodies stability the electrolytes mandatory for survival. And in some girls and different individuals with feminine anatomy or physiology, hormones even have a extra sinister facet: They will trigger or contribute to debilitating migraines.

Consultants In This Article

  • Katy Munro, MBBS, senior common practitioner headache specialist the Nationwide Migraine Centre, host of the Nationwide Migraine Centre’s Heads Up podcast, and creator of Managing Your Migraine
  • Navya Mysore, MD, household doctor and nationwide program medical director of sexual and reproductive well being at main care supplier One Medical
  • Rashmi B. Halker Singh, MD, neurologist and affiliate professor of neurology at Mayo Clinic with a particular curiosity in understanding the gender variations in migraine

In childhood, individuals of each sexes are at equal threat for migraine assaults, however after puberty, girls are two to three times more likely1 to expertise them. And in line with the American Migraine Basis, women are three times more likely than men to stay with migraines, with their first assault usually occurring across the time they get their first interval.

A feminine particular person’s hormonal state won’t solely fluctuate in month-to-month cycles, but in addition all through their lifetime, with adjustments like being pregnant, postpartum, perimenopause, and menopause. And with all of those adjustments, migraines (and the chance for having an assault) can change, too.

“Migraine is a genetic situation, however whether or not you truly get the assaults additionally is determined by various completely different epigenetic elements…and a type of is estrogen.” —Katy Munro, MBBS, headache specialist on the Nationwide Migraine Centre

To make sure, migraine is a largely genetic situation, says common practitioner Katy Munro, MBBS, a senior GP headache specialist on the Nationwide Migraine Centre, in the UK, and creator of Managing Your Migraine. (Technically, migraine is the situation, and a migraine assault is the results of the situation.) “Sure genes give your mind a vulnerability to have migraine assaults,” she says. “However whether or not you truly get the assaults additionally is determined by various completely different epigenetic factors, or elements inside and out of doors your physique [including lifestyle and environmental variables], and a type of actually highly effective elements is [the female sex hormone] estrogen.”

Dr. Munro clarifies that whereas the frequent perception of migraine is that it’s just a “bad headache,” it could actually embody much more than that. Some individuals with migraine don’t even have a debilitatingly painful headache; they could have other non-headache symptoms2 like mind fog, nausea, or neck and shoulder ache (or, extra doubtless, some mixture of those signs).

Typically, individuals with migraine have a mind that’s extra delicate to alter, says Dr. Munro. Issues like too much or too little sleep, or a spike in blood glucose levels3 can contribute to the event of a migraine assault. It isn’t usually only one factor that may set off a migraine, she provides; it’s a mix of triggers stacking on prime of each other that begins the roll of an assault, and amongst them are varied, usually inescapable adjustments in feminine reproductive hormones.

How hormones could cause or contribute to migraines

One concept posits that the fluctuating hormones of the menstrual cycle may simply irritate or set off the naturally delicate migraine mind, putting women at higher risk of a migraine attack.

It’s additionally attainable that in some individuals with migraine, faster or extra precipitous drops in estrogen4 on the finish of their menstrual cycle could make the mind extra delicate to prostaglandins, or hormone-like chemical compounds tied to ache and irritation, says Dr. Munro.

Some analysis has proven that transgender girls on estrogen remedy are more likely to have migraines than cisgender men5, and conversely, that transgender males on testosterone remedy have fewer migraines than cisgender girls—all of which highlights the position of adjusting ranges of estrogen with regards to the chance of a migraine assault.

Throughout menstruation

Estrogen and progesterone fluctuate all through the menstrual cycle, with each hormones sometimes plummeting on the very finish of the cycle, previous to the beginning of menstrual bleeding (and of the following cycle). “What the research appear to point is that it is falling levels of estrogen at the end of the menstrual cycle6 which might be notably highly effective in aggravating the vascular pathway that triggers migraine assaults,” says Dr. Munro.

“Falling ranges of estrogen on the finish of the menstrual cycle are notably highly effective in aggravating the vascular pathway that triggers migraine assaults.” —Dr. Munro

Certainly, of the ladies who expertise migraines, about 60 to 70 percent discover a connection between their migraines and menstruation, seeing an uptick of their migraines on the times main as much as their interval and/or through the first three days of their interval, when estrogen and progesterone are at their lowest.

Analysis exhibits that about 2.7 percent of people have pure menstrual migraines7 (PMM), which means they solely have migraines across the time of their interval, whereas 4.6 p.c have menstrually associated migraines (MRM), which means they get migraines more frequently around their period but in addition have them at different occasions within the month. “We don’t totally perceive why some girls get pure menstrually associated assaults and others have assaults each round menstruation and at different occasions within the month,” says Dr. Munro. “It’s a part of the complexity of migraine that makes it a problem for the person to seek for their very own answer.”

Hormonal contraception

As a result of the migraine mind is, once more, delicate to alter, fluctuating estrogen levels is usually a set off for extra migraine assaults, whereas steady estrogen ranges could scale back the variety of assaults. Because of this, hormonal contraception could both enhance or lower the frequency of migraine assaults, largely relying on whether or not it’s inflicting kind of hormonal change than the particular person’s baseline, says household doctor Navya Mysore, MD, who’s a power migraineur herself and the nationwide program medical director of sexual and reproductive well being at One Medical. “It actually is determined by the affected person and their response to the contraception.”

Dr. Mysore provides one vital notice: Mixed hormonal contraception—which incorporates each estrogen and progesterone—is contraindicated for individuals who get migraine with aura (or non permanent visible or different sensory disturbances that happen earlier than a migraine assault strikes) as it can increase the risk of stroke. (Word that each one hormonal IUDs are progesterone-only, which means they are considered safe for people who experience auras8.)

For individuals who get migraines with out aura, nevertheless, “it might be value attempting a hormonal contraception methodology [containing estrogen] to see if it’d assist, particularly in the event you discover that your episodes are round ovulation or proper earlier than getting your interval,” says Dr. Mysore.

Being pregnant

“Being pregnant is a time the place hormones are sometimes steady and never fluctuating,” says neurologist Rashmi Halker Singh, MD. It is not uncommon for migraine assaults to proceed through the first trimester of being pregnant, “as a result of hormone ranges are persevering with to alter and construct,” she says. However within the second and third trimesters, the vast majority of individuals with migraine will notice a decrease in their migraine attacks9.

That mentioned, there’s one subset of individuals with migraine who could not expertise this pregnancy-related dip: those that get auras, who’re truly extra more likely to be triggered when in a excessive estrogen state like that of being pregnant, says Dr. Halker Singh. (For a similar cause, some individuals who have by no means had an aura with their migraine assaults can even start .)


In a research that adopted girls with a historical past of migraines throughout and after being pregnant, 55 percent noticed a return of their migraines throughout the first month postpartum. The large drop in estrogen and progesterone post-birth is probably going accountable for that resurgence of migraine assaults, says Dr. Mysore. Because of this main hormonal swing, girls who’ve by no means skilled a migraine earlier than might also begin experiencing them within the postpartum interval.

It’s not simply the hormones that enhance the chance for migraine assaults through the postpartum interval, although: That cute child can be accountable for the sleep deprivation, the stress, and the truth that dinner may be a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup washed down by the chilly espresso you by no means received an opportunity to drink through the day. Such behavioral and life-style adjustments—like lacking out on sleep and skipping meals—fall into the bucket of frequent migraine triggers themselves.

Whereas it’s true that breastfeeding may have a protective effect against migraine attacks12 (because of the methods by which lactation retains estrogen ranges regular and delays the return of menstruation), the exhaustion and stress that may come together with it might negate those benefits13.


Perimenopause is the time throughout which the physique transitions to menopause, and ranges of reproductive hormones (like estrogen) start to drop. It usually begins when a person is in their forties however can begin earlier or later. The related lower in estrogen ranges—which frequently happens erratically all through the transition—can definitely end in an uptick in migraine assaults, says Dr. Halker Singh.

However Dr. Munro factors out that simply as in postpartum, it’s not solely the hormones that may trigger migraines to surge throughout this section of life; it may also be the associated life-style and behavioral adjustments. Within the case of perimenopause, you may be dealing with difficulty sleeping or the stress of huge life adjustments (maybe a job promotion), the lack of an aged mum or dad, or parenting a youngster.

However don’t lose all hope: In lots of instances, migraine assaults do lower in menopause (extra on that under). Then once more, the median length of perimenopause is four years14; and for some unfortunate souls, it could actually last more than 10 years.


Menopause is technically outlined because the cut-off date 12 months after an individual’s final menstrual interval, when their reproductive capability has ended. After the erratic fluctuations of perimenopause, hormones are likely to degree out in menopause, and for a lot of, migraine assaults lower because of this. Even for these in whom migraines don’t disappear utterly, Dr. Munro notes that “they might be simpler to deal with or much less troublesome [during menopause.]”

Whilst you could search hormone alternative remedy (HRT) with the approval of a health care provider to deal with menopause signs that may contribute to migraines—like scorching flashes, evening sweats, insomnia, and plenty of others—using HRT can even trigger extra migraine assaults by triggering hormone fluctuations, says Dr. Munro, so it’s vital to work with a specialist to search out the precise treatment for you.

Are different hormones accountable for triggering migraines?

Estrogen holds plenty of energy with regards to triggering migraine assaults, however it’s not the one hormone that may wreak havoc. Contemplate how adrenaline and cortisol can spike throughout disturbing conditions, says Dr. Munro, and the way stress can contribute to migraine assaults.

However whereas some individuals expertise migraine assaults whereas they’re wired, others discover that they get the assault after the disturbing state of affairs resolves, says Dr. Munro, main her to conclude that it is much less in regards to the specific hormone in play, and extra about fluctuation: “When something in your physique is a bit off-kilter, then you definately’re extra more likely to have the vulnerability of getting migraine assaults.”

Typically, “migraine adjustments all through life as a result of every thing adjustments all through life,” says Dr. Munro. “Migraine is the way in which that the mind processes change, and so with our physique and the environment and our life stressors altering, the mind reacts to that.”

Nicely+Good articles reference scientific, dependable, current, strong research to again up the knowledge we share. You’ll be able to belief us alongside your wellness journey.

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  2. Chen, Ping-Kun, and Shuu-Jiun Wang. “Non-headache signs in migraine sufferers.” F1000Research vol. 7 188. 14 Feb. 2018, doi:10.12688/f1000research.12447.1
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  8. Edlow, Andrea G, and Deborah Bartz. “Hormonal contraceptive choices for girls with headache: a evaluation of the proof.” Opinions in obstetrics & gynecology vol. 3,2 (2010): 55-65.
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