Headaches during menopause – causes and lifestyle solutions
What causes headaches during menopause?
Headaches are one of the most common symptoms of menopause and can be very debilitating. The most common type of headache experienced is a migraine as it is most closely linked to fluctuations in hormones. According to the Migraine Trust, the few studies that have been conducted found that the menopause makes migraines worse for up to 45% of women. A migraine is the most intense type of headache, compared to tension and sinus headaches which are the other two most common types.
In addition to changes in hormone levels, migraine headaches can also be caused by a combination of factors although research is still inconclusive as to the root cause. Lifestyle ‘triggers’ such as stress, artificial stimulants, lack of sleep, alcohol and certain food types or lack of food types can also be factors.
Typically, a migraine will cause a moderate to severe throbbing or pulsating pain on one side of the head. When a migraine is accompanied by sensitivity to light, blurred vision, nausea and mental confusion, it’s known as a migraine ‘with aura.’ When this happens it can take you out of action completely and you may need to take yourself off to a quiet, dark and cool place while it passes. Migraines can last from a day up to several days depending on the severity. Placing a cool pack on your head at the root of the pain can often help to lessen some of the pain. The intensity, frequency and associated symptoms of migraine headaches differ amongst sufferers.
The World Health Organisation regards migraine headaches in the top 20 disabling conditions for women aged 15-44 years old. It can impact on your ability to go to work and it’s estimated that it costs the UK economy approximately £3bn each year. The impact of menopause on migraines can differ greatly. If you already suffer from migraines during your regular monthly cycle – the onset of menopause can make headaches lessen but often the intensity and frequency can severely worsen.
For women who may never have experienced migraines before, they may start for the first time during peri-menopause because of the hormonal changes occurring. If you are still menstruating, the best thing to do is monitor when your headache occurs within your monthly cycle to see how closely it is linked to fluctuations in hormone levels. Check out our Menopause Symptoms Tracker which can help you do this.
The good news is that hormonal migraines usually stop after menopause, when hormone levels stabilise.
Lifestyle solutions to help manage headaches during menopause
Firstly, you need to visit your GP to rule out any underlying medical conditions which might be causing your headaches. Once you have ruled this out you may be able to help lessen the impact of your headaches by implementing self-help techniques and by making lifestyle changes.
1. Lifestyle triggers
Keep a daily journal to see if you can identify what lifestyle triggers might cause your headaches during menopause. For example – does a late night or interrupted sleep trigger a headache? Or a stressful day at work or with the children? Or does it coincide with your menstrual cycle? Over time you will start to see patterns emerge which you can then try to remedy.
2. Identify your food triggers
By going on an elimination diet you can identify possible food triggers. The elimination diet usually lasts between 21 to 28 days and the objective is to remove certain food groups and then slowly re-introduce them at the end of the 28 days whilst keeping the rest of your diet the same. This way you can clearly see what your food triggers are. Some of the most common triggers are gluten, dairy, shellfish, soy, and peanuts. Others might include chemicals such as Monosodium Glutamate (MSG) found in many processed foods and sulphites found in red wine and dried fruit as well as tyramines found in cheese, chocolate and specifically Chianti wine. Once you understand what your particular triggers are then you can either reduce them or eliminate them completely from your daily diet. We strongly advise that you work with a nutritional therapist or a dietician to help you with this process.
Our partner Nutritionist, Helen Morton (DipION) is an expert in woman’s health and can be contacted on +44 (0) 7984 439259, or visit her website: www.helenmortonnutrition.com
3. Increase your intake of magnesium rich foods or supplements
Significant research has shown that people who suffer migraines often have lower levels of magnesium than those without. One study found that regular intake of magnesium reduced the frequency of migraine attacks by 41.6%. Magnesium can be found in foods such as dark leafy vegetables, wild salmon, flaxseed, nuts, seeds, avocados and bananas.
It may also be worth taking a good quality magnesium supplement and magnesium citrate is most frequently used to prevent migraines of about 400-500 mg dosage.
4. Keep hydrated
Often sufferers find that exercising can trigger a migraine but this could be down to hydration. So make sure you drinks up to two litres of water every day especially if you are exercising.
5. Stabalise blood sugar levels
It’s important to keep your blood sugar levels stable throughout the day so don’t let yourself get hungry. Always eat breakfast within 30-45 minutes after waking to break the fast and get your sugar levels up and then maintain your sugar levels throughout the day by eating a little often but try to avoid sugar itself.
6. Relaxation techniques
Consider adding relaxation techniques to your daily routine such as yoga, meditation and deep breathing.
Acupuncture stems from traditional Chinese medicine and can be effective in helping manage headaches by using thin needles to stimulate your body’s energy pathways. You often need to have several sessions but it can be very effective for many women.
8. Take gentle exercise
Being active might help prevent headaches as it will get your blood flowing around your body. It’s best to avoid high intensity workouts with loud music but instead opt for more gentle classes or a nice long swim.
9. Aromatherapy oils
Aromatherapy is a wonderful and can be a very effective treatment for headaches and migraines. However, it is essential that you always seek advice from a professional before you use the oils and always buy from a specialist supplier rather than a high street store. Many of the high street brands stipulate they are for external use only which means they are not pure.
Frankincense is the main oil that for migraine relief and can be applied directly to the roof of your mouth (because of its complex structure Frankincense crosses the blood-brain barrier) – you can do this every 15 – 20 minutes as necessary. Also applying a Peppermint rollerball to your temples and onto the back of your neck can also help alleviate the pain.
In addition to making lifestyle changes if you are experiencing headaches during menopause that are impacting your ability to function, we would highly recommend that you seek advice from your doctor or a specialist. We do not recommend that you use aromatherapy oils within the advice of a professional.