Can Hormones Be the Cause of Headaches?

Quincy AdamMigraine Learn

Woman laughing
‘Hormone’ comes from a Greek word that means to impel or set in motion. And that’s exactly what hormones do. They make things happen, controlling many of the body’s functions. For example, your hormones will enable your body to take your breakfast bowl of cereal and turn it into energy.

Your endocrine glands create and discharge hormones. These include the gastrointestinal tract, thyroid gland and ovaries. Once secreted, how they interact with your nervous system decides whether you will feel pain as the result of a headache trigger. Medical researchers believe that estrogen affects brain receptors that are related to migraines and migraine-like headaches.

It follows that any fluctuation in estrogen levels may be the cause of headaches or may make them worse. That means that women are at the mercy of their hormones during their menstrual periods, while using contraceptives and when taking estrogen replacement medications.1

With all these hormonal influences, it’s not surprising that women get three times as many migraines as men, according to the Migraine Research Foundation. When women are in their reproductive years, menstrual cycles have a substantial impact on when a migraine occurs. Around 50% of women with a migraine say their menstrual cycle impacts migraine occurrences.2 Estrogen levels dip to their lowest levels a couple of days before a woman starts her menstrual flow. This drop in estrogen increases the likelihood that she will suffer a pre-menstrual migraine attack.3, 4

There are two times during a woman’s life when migraines are likely to dissipate. The first is during pregnancy. That’s because when a mother has a baby on board, her estrogen levels increase quickly and stay elevated until she gives birth. At that point, estrogen falls, leaving the door open for headaches to return. The second time for migraine relief is after menopause when hormone levels are low but remain constant. The only risk during this time is if a woman decides to pursue hormone replacement therapy.

How to Calm Your Hormonal Migraines

Before attacking your migraine issue, you want to understand what is triggering your headaches. Don’t assume that just because you’re a woman, that hormonal fluctuations are the cause of headaches. There are many other possible migraine triggers, including what you eat and drink, the medications you take, how you sleep, and even exercising in adverse conditions.

So, to narrow down what your triggers might be, you need to keep a diary. Record when you get migraines along with what you eat, drugs, exercise, weather and any other possible contributing factors. Also, note the level of headache pain as well as other symptoms you experience. And, of course, note when you get your period or take hormone replacement drugs. This documentation will help you to determine whether your hormones are the culprits that cause your head to pound.

Take your diary with you when you visit your doctor. He or she may recommend taking NSAIDs, such as ibuprofen or naproxen, a couple of days before and throughout your period. Other alternatives are prescription drugs and hormonal therapy.

Clearly, hormone fluctuations can be the cause of headaches. It’s up to you to help determine how your hormonal changes correlate with your migraines by documenting all possible triggers. Then, work with a medical professional to find the best way to manage your symptoms.

“Headaches and Hormones.” Accessed November 20, 2015.
2 “Menstruation and Migraine.” Accessed November 20, 2015.
3 Granella F, Sances G, Pucci E, Nappi RE, Ghiotto N, Nappi G. Migraine with aura and reproductive life events: a case control study. Cephalalgia. 2000;20:701–707. [PubMed] 4 Wober C, Brannath W, Schmidt K, Kapitan M, Rudel E, Wessely P, Wober-Bingol C. Prospective analysis of factors related to migraine attacks: the PAMINA study. Cephalalgia. 2007;27:304–314. doi: 10.1111/j.1468-2982.2007.01279.x. [PubMed]