Medically reviewed by Emily Maurer, NP on September 1, 2020
Though migraines often strike without warning or an identifiable cause, the beginning of your period can trigger the onset of menstrual migraines. Up to 60% of women who get regular migraines also get menstrual migraines, and treating them can sometimes require completely different methods than what you may be used to.
You have several options at your disposal for treating menstrual migraines. Here are some of the most common:
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or NSAIDs, may sound intimidating or expensive, but they’re simply the class of medication that includes common pain relievers such as aspirin, Ibuprofen and Aleve. In addition to over-the-counter NSAIDs, your doctor can also prescribe stronger versions if necessary.
Taking NSAIDs as recommended a few days before your period begins and then throughout the duration of your period can significantly reduce the chance of a menstrual migraine developing, and it can also lighten the impact of any headaches that do come. In addition, the anti-inflammatory properties of NSAIDs can also help reduce period cramping.
If NSAIDs don’t help your migraines, try acetaminophen, the over-the-counter pain reliever found in Tylenol and Excedrin.
Triptans are generally prescribed for use once a migraine has already begun, but careful intake of them can actually prevent menstrual migraines from ever starting. Like NSAIDs, triptans can be taken as directed by a medical provider before or after your period begins.
Because triptans are commonly used as abortives, using them too much can result in more severe headaches later on. Some doctors will prescribe a combination of triptans and NSAIDs in order to prevent overuse and maximize efficacy.
- Estrogen boosters
While there’s no definitive explanation for why menstrual migraines take place, one common theory is that they’re spurred on by the body’s dip in estrogen levels right before periods begin. The best way to avoid this is by using estrogen-containing birth control continuously, thus keeping estrogen levels in your body consistently high.
For women who experience migraines with aura, another approach is likely needed as too much estrogen can increase the risk of stroke in some cases. These women are usually prescribed progestin-only birth control to reduce their risks.
- Lifestyle changes
Living a healthy lifestyle and sticking to regular habits is one of the most effective methods out there for warding off potential migraines. Daily exercise, particularly light cardio, can reduce migraine intensity and frequency — be careful, though, as overexertion can sometimes be a migraine trigger. Getting a full night’s sleep is crucial as well, as the risk of migraine increases significantly if you’re fatigued or not on a regular sleep schedule.
If you suffer regularly from menstrual migraines, be sure not to consume any potential trigger foods or beverages— common ones include heavily spiced dishes, caffeine, or chocolate — during or in the days leading up to your period.
High levels of activity, work, or general stress can all cause migraines to begin — and the start of your period can make you particularly sensitive to this phenomenon. Try to ensure in advance that the few days preceding your period are as low-intensity as possible and don’t ratchet things up once your period begins. If a migraine strikes, spend as much time as possible in a dark, quiet place where you can remove yourself from stress and relax.
If you suffer from menstrual migraines, you’re probably wondering which treatment will work best for you. Get in contact with the Nurx medical team for a personalized treatment plan and ongoing care.