Menopause Headaches and Migraines
What You Need to Know to Treat and Avoid Pain During Menopause
This is the purpose of this article:
- Information and resources about natural and herbal treatments you may not have heard about.
- Information about hormone treatment and some general treatment guidelines.
- 14 practical tips to avoid and deal with your headaches.
At the end of the article we will give you a link to find out the reasons for menopause headaches and migraines to help you understand which treatment might be the best course of action.
Menopause headaches are a complex issue with more than one underlying cause.
For some women they are hormone related, others can blame stress and tension. With the advance of age, muscles and spine problems are also a possibility. Then add genetic components into the mix and it is little wonder that menopause is a time that is ripe for headaches and migraines.
During perimenopause your hormones go on a roller coaster ride and can trigger headaches and migraines.
Some practitioners prescribe birth control pills in early perimenopause to regulate hormone levels to avoid the related headaches. Even in later perimenopause, hormone treatments may be an option but in some cases it can make your symptoms actually worse.
Many women are sensitive to progestin, the synthetic form of progesterone. Natural progesterone is a better option (such as Prometrium® or progesterone cream).
If you experience breast pain at the same time as you have headaches or migraines you may have estrogen dominance. In this case, (natural) progesterone will provide relief.
A recent study revealed some interesting results:
- Estrogen withdrawal causes mostly migraines without aura.
- High estrogen levels are more associated with migraines with aura.
In both cases relief comes from hormone treatments which stabilize fluctuating estrogen levels.
(The results were published in the European menopause journal Maturitas in the January 2012 issue.)
If you know or suspect that your pain is menopause related, talk to a menopause specialist who understands the relationship between the hormone fluctuations and your symptoms. This is certainly better than just being send home with a standard prescription for pain killers.
To find a specialist in your area use the American Menopause Society database. (The link will open in a new window).
Herbs for Menopause Headaches
There are numerous pain medications either over-the-counter or by prescription. But there are several powerful herbs that also have analgesic (pain relieving) properties. These herbs may be a good alternative to any pain medication.
However, don’t mix prescription drugs or over-the-counter medications with these herbs without consulting your pharmacist or doctor about potential drug interactions and side effects.
Use only Butterbur extract from very reliable sources and don’t use the dried herb because it contains chemicals that are toxic to the liver. Commercially prepared extracts from reliable sources don’t contain these alkaloids.
Petadolex is a standardized butterbur extract that has pyrrolizidine alkaloids (PAs) removed. Neurologists in Europe are prescribing this medication as a treatment for natural headache and migraine relief before stronger synthetic medications are used.
Feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium) has been used to treat headaches and arthritis for centuries. Long term use in high doses can lead to rebound headaches and muscle and joint pains.
Some people are allergic to the chemical in feverfew and experience skin and gastrointestinal problems. It may interact with blood thinners and some other medications. Here is a resource for Butterbur with Feverfew.
Evening Primrose (Oenothera biennis) has hormone balancing qualities and contains substances that help with headaches. It is a great herb for menopausal women who suffer from numerous hormone related symptoms such as hormone headaches, hot flashes, night sweats or low libido. Here is a resource for Nature’s Bounty Evening Primrose Oil.
Evening Primrose can lead to rebound headaches if used long-term and in higher doses. Always take it with food and combine it with Vitamin E for better results.
Passionflower (Passiflora incarnata) is used to treat anxiety and insomnia. It also has analgesic (pain relieving) properties. The active chemicals in passionflower lower the activity of certain brain cells which has a relaxing effect. This makes it a great herb for menopause headaches that are stress related. Passionflower makes a great tasting tea.
Peppermint (Mentha piperita) is not only used as a common flavoring, it has also many medicinal uses. The oil can be applied topically across the forehead or temple to relieve headaches as an effective headache remedy.
It can also cool minor burns or skin irritations (don’t use it on small children w/o checking with a pediatrician). Taken orally or as a tea will help with digestion, nausea and gas (don’t use peppermint if you have acid reflux).
Be careful when you use peppermint oil internally. Large doses are toxic.
Ginkgo (Ginkgo balboa) is one of the most popular herbs whose effects have been widely studied. It can increase the blood flow throughout the body and as such may help with menopause headaches. But this is one claim that has not been proven. It has a high concentration of antioxidants and protects the nerves, heart muscle, blood vessels, and retina from damages.
Ginkgo can interact with numerous medications especially blood thinners, ibuprofen (which has blood thinning action) and anti-depressants.
Capsaicin is the active substance in chili peppers (it is the chemical that makes chili peppers hot). Capsaicin works by depleting a neurotransmitter that activates pain and heat sensing nerves. It causes a strong sensation of heat which disappears with prolonged use. After capsaicin is stopped the neurotransmitter recovers and the pain nerves activate again.
Capsaicin is currently investigated as a treatment for chronic pain associated with neuropathy. It works great for tension headaches or local pain when rubbed on the affected area. It is available in various strengths as a topical cream or in applicators and patches. A new way to use capsaicin is as a nasal spray.
Here are the resources for SALONPAS capsaicin patches and also the new Sinol “All Natural” Headache Nasal Spray with capsaicin. This new pain reliever is being used by migraine and cluster headache clinics and might just help with your menopause headaches.
Not every person can use capsaicin because it has some irritant effect on sensitive skin. If you ever handled chili peppers and then rubbed your eyes, you know that it is prudent to avoid eye contact or to wear cloves when applying capsaicin. (Capsaicin is my favorite pain relieving topical. If I use it regularly I am free from headaches. However, several of my friends had skin reactions and can’t use it. So be careful).
Willow Bark (usually salix alba but sometimes mixtures of salix alba, purpurea and fragilis) contains salicylic acid (the active compound in aspirin) plus some other chemicals. It can relieve headaches and inflammation like aspirin but at lower concentrations and for longer time, probably due to the other active chemicals in willow bark.
Don’t use willow bark with other pain medication to avoid drug interactions.
Here are some other natural treatments for headaches:
Ice packs on the neck will relieve tension headaches but not migraines. Get some crushed ice and put it in a zip lock bag wrapped in a thin towel. Lay your head on it for as long as you can, about 20 min. In a pinch, you can use an ice cold soda can or water bottle. Rub it along your neck and shoulder muscles. For the road or at work put a plastic water bottle in the freezer for an easy ice pack.
Heat increases the blood flow to the affected area. Some women bet better relief from heat than from ice packs. Try both methods to find out what works best for you.
Other alternative treatments such as acupuncture, reiki, or acupressure are successful headache relievers for many women.
Look for any of the herbs for pain relief on Amazon. Be patient – natural remedies don’t work overnight!
14 Tips to Avoid and Relieve
Headaches and migraines have multiple roots. Often one kind of headache can lead to another (i.e. a tension headache can trigger a migraine). So it is a smart approach to support any natural remedy or pain medication with additional treatments and resources to fight the pain.
Following are 14 tips to help with pain relief and to reduce the intensity and (over time) frequency of your menopause headaches and migraines.
(At the end of the article you will find links to more information about some of the techniques.)
- Learn relaxation and stress relieving techniques You can find great tips in The Relaxation and Stress Reduction Workbook..
- Exercise is one of the best things you can do to alleviate headaches. A great way to exercise and to relax at the same time is Pilates, Yoga and Tai-Chi. (Personally I have great success with the Stott Pilates method – as long as I regularly do Pilates, I have no headaches.)
- Stretch regularly to avoid headaches. This relaxes the muscles and helps with tension. It also provides a nice way to refocus your mind. Here is a great little book on stretching properly by Bob Anderson.
- Avoid caffeine, alcohol and large amounts of sugar. These are all known headache triggers.
- Ensure proper nutrition with lots of fruits and vegetables. This will help your body to get the vitamins and minerals it needs. You may want to consider taking a multi vitamin and adding extra calcium and magnesium to your diet.
- Make sure that you have proper equipment when you are sitting on a computer or at work. Good lighting is also important to avoid eye strain. Together with regular stretching, these things will go a long way to avoid tension related menopause headaches.
- Keep a menopause headache diary. Write down everything you ate, drank and did to find out if there are specific triggers for your headache. You may be surprised at what you find. Keep an open mind and don’t look for evidence to support your theory. Write everything down for a while and see what patterns emerge.
- Avoid unnecessary chemicals in your environment and food. Many prepared foods contain chemicals and additives that could be a reason for your symptoms. Some artificial sweeteners are linked to headaches.
- Avoid the use of air fresheners and scented candles or oils which trigger allergic reactions and headaches in many people. (Even if you are not sensitive to these chemicals do your friends and co-workers a favor and don’t use them).
- Ensure adequate sleep. Insomnia is a problem for many women in menopause. Lack of sleep and the stress it causes can trigger a menopause headache or migraine.
- Do you need a new mattress? Sleep problems and headaches are often related to poor body alignment and bad support by your mattress.
- Make sure you get enough water. Many women are dehydrated and don’t even know it. Headaches are a common symptoms of dehydration.
- For neck tension or problems with spinal alignment see a chiropractor or get a massage.
- Do you grind your teeth? Ask your dentist if there are signs that you grind your teeth at night. This causes tension in the jaw and also headaches. There are some easy remedies that your dentist can provide to avoid teeth grinding or jaw problems such as a teeth guard you wear at night.
A Final Word about Menopause Headaches
Some women get relief just by taking better care of their body!
– Any treatment with pain medications or hormones should be assisted with a proper diet and stress and tension relieving methods.
- Maybe stress relief and the changes you make in your nutrition can help (or at least diminish) the intensity or frequency of your menopause headaches and migraines.
Unfortunately, the connection between menopause and headaches is not widely recognized and are often treated as two unrelated conditions. Don’t let a doctor just write a prescription because he/she dismisses your claim that your headache is menopause related.
If you can’t get help from your regular practitioner, find a menopause specialist in your area.
The herbs we have mentioned in this article have been used for pain relief for hundreds of years. Just be careful not to mix herbal remedies and prescription or over-the-counter drugs to prevent any interactions and side effects.
In addition, use some of the tips to prevent headaches from starting and, at minimum, do some relaxation exercises.
Read more: Menopause Headaches and Migraines – How to Treat and Avoid the Pain
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