Dear Dr Nina: I suffer terribly with migraines and I’ve noticed they’ve become worse since I started the menopause. What’s going on?
Q. I suffer terribly with migraines and I’ve noticed they’ve become worse since I started the menopause. What’s going on?
Dr Nina replies: It is estimated that 10pc to 15pc of the Irish population suffer from migraine. Pain is described as pulsing or throbbing and usually starts on one side of the head, around the eye area, but can spread to both. About one third of those who suffer with migraines notice a change in taste or smell, or visual changes, prior to the headache. This altered sensation is called an aura.
There is often associated nausea and occasional vomiting with the headache. Migraines can go on for hours or, in rare instances, days. We do not really know what causes migraines, but they can run in families and genetics do seem to play a role.
Hormone fluctuations are a common migraine trigger in women. Many notice migraines are worse pre-menstrually. Perimenopause is the period of a woman’s life when the end of menstruation is drawing close. It can start up to 10 years before menstruation stops completely. During this time, hormone swings can be more or less dramatic, periods may change or become more erratic. Hot flushes and urinary symptoms occur in some.
Due to the change in hormone levels, women may become more or less susceptible to migraine.
Menopausal symptoms last on average from six months to five years, but in a small percentage of women they may carry on much longer than that. If migraines are truly hormone-related, they tend to ease in the post-menopausal period.
It is important to be aware that other headaches become more common as you age. Those who are over 50 and have a new headache need to take heed. If it is worse when eating, wakes you at night or is worst first thing in the morning, lasts more than a few days and is not relieved by rest, fluids and painkillers, I advise an early GP appointment.
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