No woman would say that she enjoys the menstrual cycle, but for some women, this time of shifting hormones can be especially difficult. Aside from the bloating, cramping, and general irritability, these hormone fluctuations can bring on menstrual migraines.
These migraines can be especially painful and difficult to treat. Medical professionals are still unsure about the exact causes, but research is slowly bringing about promising new forms of treatment.
A Chemical Reaction?
The hormones of the female body fluctuate constantly, but in a perfectly orchestrated fashion. In particular, estrogen and progesterone levels build throughout the beginning of each menstrual cycle, but those levels fall off drastically when a woman’s period begins. After the period begins, the uterus also releases specialized fatty acids, called prostaglandins, into the bloodstream.
Scientists speculate that these three body chemicals play a distinct role in the onset of menstrual migraines. Some research also says that these female hormones interact with serotonin, an important brain chemical involved in migraines.
Two Courses of Prevention
Preventing menstrual migraines isn’t easy. Each woman has her own unique bodily interactions and hormonal swings. However, studies have shown that menstrual migraines are most likely to hit in the two days before the period starts or during the first three days of the period. With that five-day window in mind, women with predictable cycles can focus their migraine prevention efforts specifically on those days.
These menstrual-specific treatments concentrate on holding estrogen levels steady. For example, if women are interested in taking oral contraceptives, doctors may suggest that they take only active pills for 3-6 months. Forgoing the placebo pills will prevent the falling levels of estrogen and the normal cycle of menstruation. Using specialized estrogen patches (100 mg of Estradiol) provides a similar type of treatment for women who are sensitive to falling hormone levels and menstrual migraines.
For women with irregular menstrual cycles, supplementing estrogen at these specific times might not be possible. In these cases, doctors may recommend a variety of preventative treatments. These medications are typically taken throughout the cycle, with an increased dosage near the time of expected menstruation.
- Triptans – Influence serotonin in order to decrease inflammation and constrict the blood vessels of the brain.
- Beta blockers – Relax blood vessels.
- Calcium channel blockers – Relax blood vessels and promote oxygen uptake.
- Antidepressants – Regulate serotonin levels.
The Role of Magnesium
Magnesium is another potential preventative treatment for menstrual migraines. This mineral is important for both men and women. It works with the muscles, enzymes, and energy sources of the body. Typically, adults have 25 grams of magnesium in their bodies. But, for women suffering from menstrual migraines, that number may be substantially lower.
Some recent studies have shown that magnesium deficiency may play a role in menstrual migraines. Scientific trials have also looked at the effectiveness of supplemental magnesium in migraine prevention. The research is ongoing and doctors usually recommend a 500-600 milligram dose of magnesium every day for at least three months before any benefits can be seen.
Individuals should certainly consult a doctor before taking magnesium supplements. The extra magnesium may interact with antibiotics, muscle relaxants, and blood pressure medications.