You dim the lights, shut out all noises, and you close your eyes but that migraine is not leaving you alone. It can feel like forever before that throbbing pain disappears and you want a solution, fast.
Migraines can get really debilitating, after all, they are only known to be one of the worst disabling headaches anyone can experience. What makes migraines worse is that they often bring along symptoms that make things really unbearable. This can include nausea, trouble with vision, dizziness, and an uncomfortable tingling sensation.
Your agony is acknowledged by many who have this unwanted visitor. Did you know that 1 in 4 people in the United States suffers from migraines?
Getting ahead of the game and preventing or easing the severity of the migraine is key. Although they can be inevitable at times, they can be much less severe. You can also stop them from happening so frequently if you are familiar with the triggers that bring along a migraine.
Now, if you are a woman imagine going through that certain time of the month and having a migraine. Unfortunately, one of the most common triggers is hormonal changes. They are so common during that period that they have their own name, menstrual migraines.
If you suffer from menstrual migraines or just had the first one you are probably looking left and right for ways to treat them. Let’s discuss the top ways to prevent menstrual migraines, and if they decide to come anyway, make them more bearable.
How to Treat Menstrual Migraines
Mother nature felt that all the cramping and mood shifts weren’t enough to deal with during your menstrual cycle. She decided to add a little bit, or let me say a lot more to your plate, and throw in a painful headache that can last from 4-72 hours. You heard right. Menstrual migraines can come before or during the menstrual cycle and can last for hours or several days.
About 60% of women feel this pain. They can all blame a shift in female hormones, specifically the hormone Estrogen for it. Levels of Estrogen and progesterone drop to their lowest before the menstrual cycle and keep on changing during it. Low Estrogen levels are a trigger for migraines and before you know it you are a neurological mess looking for a way out.
Luckily the exit sign is not far ahead. Here are the top ways that can help you control your menstrual migraines.
Get Familiar with The Warning Signs
After a few rounds with this strong headache, you will get the hang of when it’s going to show up again. It is easier in the case of menstrual cycles since most women have regular cycle intervals.
If your headaches affect your ability to function, knowing they are coming can allow you to ask for some time off from work or school beforehand.
Other helpful hints that can warn you about migraine can occur 24 hours prior. This phase is called the prodrome phase and includes:
- Mood swings and an irritable feeling
- Craving certain foods
- Increased frequency in urination
- Inability to focus
- Frequent yawning
Auras are other symptoms that are less common but can also be a warning sign that a headache is near. They happen after the prodrome phase.
Auras can present themselves as:
- Blurry vision
- Blind spots
- A certain smell
- Changes in taste
- Tingling and numbness
Keeping a diary with information about your migraines and warning signs can help you and your doctor know how to ease their burden. This diary can also help you remember information about your migraines that you could forget about once the headaches are gone.
Let Food Be Your Medicine
Food is nature’s medicine, and in many instances, people can avoid having to take medications just by changing their diet. If you are aware of any food that helps relieve your menstrual migraines make sure to stock up when the dreaded time is near. If you do not, no worries! Just take a look at the list below and make sure to add some of the food listed to your grocery list.
Food that Can Zap a Migraine
- Bland bread and grains such as cereals that are low in sugar content, brown rice, and plain bagels
- Fresh low sodium-containing meat including salmon, beef, chicken, or lamb
- Decaffeinated beverages and low sugar-containing juice
- Fresh yellow, orange, and green vegetables such as sweet potatoes and collard greens
- Cooked or dried none or low citrus fruits such as figs, bananas, coconut, and mangoes
- Dark chocolate
We know now that food can relief migraines but some can actually trigger them. It is just as important to learn about which foods can worsen or trigger a migraine so you can do your best to avoid them.
Food and Drinks that Can Start a Migraine
- Processed and cured meats such as hot dogs, bacon, and salami
- Citrus fruits including lemons, oranges, pineapple, and berries
- Fatty and fried foods
- Foods that include MSG, dyes, and additives
- Aged and ripened cheese including cheddar, brie, and blue cheese
- Lima and navy beans
- Chicken and beef liver
- Ice cream and other frozen foods
One more thing to keep in mind is the hunger headache. This migraine is caused by having a low blood glucose level and 50% of them happen after 16 hours without food. Remember to have frequent small healthy meals so you can avoid this easily preventable trigger.
Run Away From It All
The last thing on your mind is going on a long run during your menstrual cycle. Fortunately, you do not have to do that. What you need to do is exercise at least three times a week before your period starts.
Endorphins are the feel-good natural painkillers that our body releases when we exercise. They can reduce the intensity of the migraine and even stop them from recurring so frequently. In fact, studies found that exercise can be as preventative as medication when it comes to migraines.
Pick an exercise that you enjoy from the list below to scare that migraine away
- Brisk walking and jogging
- Outdoor activities such as hiking and mountain climbing
- Swimming and rowing
- Lifting weights using free weights such as dumbbells and barbells
- Group exercises including marathons and dancing
Before you become a gym buff however make sure to start slow and always stay hydrated throughout your exercise routine. Don’t forget about that hunger headache either since exercise can quickly put you in a state of hunger. Make sure to eat a nice meal about an hour before you exercise and stop if you are feeling lightheaded at any point.
Relax with Essential Oils
Who does not love the smell and feel of essential oils? Migraines. Not only can aromatherapy ease pain causing headaches, it can also help with your menstrual cramps. The nice thing about essential oils is that they are versatile. You can use them as a massage oil, put them in your vaporizer, and rub a few drops on your hands or neck to keep the smell lingering.
There are many kinds of essential oils. These are the ones that will vaporize a migraine:
- Lavender oil: This is by far the most common essential oil used to relieve migraines. It is backed up by evidence and is considered as an essential weapon for many health ailments including headaches, stress, insomnia and more.
- Peppermint oil: imagine rubbing some peppermint oil (or better yet having someone do it for you) on your temples and head. The tingling sensation and the strong menthol smell will have you feeling better in no time.
- Rosemary oil: this essential oil acts as a natural painkiller. Mix it in with a little bit of coconut oil and rub onto your wrists or temples for lasting comfort
- Eucalyptus: Putting this oil in a diffuser and having the smell linger around your home will help you breathe better and ease your headaches. Avoid putting this oil on the skin due to the possibility of an allergic reaction.
- Chamomile oil: To say goodbye to menstrual cramps and migraines use chamomile oil. It helps stomach pain, headaches, and insomnia.
- Sage oil: Sage is a spice that has long been used in medicinal teas for abdominal cramps, stress relief, and headaches.
Attack Migraines with Supplements
Many promising medications for the treatment of migraines are available. However, they have unwanted side effects and not all of them are effective. Supplements are a safer way to prevent or treat migraines and can be found fast at your local store’s shelf or a vitamin and nutrition store.
Be cautious since these supplements do not have to be approved by the FDA but you can look for other hints of regulation on the labels.
The most popular supplements for migraines include:
1)Magnesium: Research has shown that people with migraines have low magnesium levels. It makes sense to supplement your diet with magnesium either in the form of a supplement or through your diet with foods such as nuts and grains that are high in magnesium content.
2)Vitamin B2 or Riboflavin: If you have migraines that keep coming back, vitamin B2 can make them less frequent. It is found in most multivitamins or can be taken on its own.
4)Coenzyme Q10: This supplement has also been shown to reduce the duration of a migraine. One study showed that it decreased a migraine by 50% in 60% of the participants.
3)Feverfew: long used as an anti-inflammatory plant, feverfew has also been found to play a role in safely preventing and treating migraines.
Make it a point to ask your doctor about any supplement you are thinking about taking since some of them can interfere with other medications.
Say Farewell to Stress and Migraines
Getting close to that time of the month is stressful on its own. Having to deal with a migraine at the same time can make you understandably a nervous wreck. That is why it makes sense to try tried and tested stress relieving methods that will clear your head.
Alternative ways to heal your migraines
- Acupuncture: This ancient Chinese alternative where fine needles are inserted near different nerves in the body. This causes the nerves to release feel-good hormones such as endorphins and an increase in blood flow which is said to improve the symptoms of migraines. The best thing about this method is that it can be used for both chronic and acute migraines.
- Acupressure: Pressure points are used in acupressure as well but you do not need to see a professional for it and can do it at the comfort of your own home, oh and there are no needles involved. You simply use your hands to find different pressure points called acupoints that would relief your headache. Next, you place pressure on those points and massage for at least 15 to 30 seconds.
- Biofeedback: This technique will put you in control of your migraines by allowing you to monitor your heart rate, temperature, breathing rate, and blood pressure. When you are aware that one of these is abnormally high you can use relaxation techniques such as meditation to control them.
- Massage: Migraines can cause tension in the neck, jaw, and skull and a professional massage can quickly take care of that. One study even showed that massage can make migraines less frequent and improve sleep.
Final Thoughts On Menstrual Migraines
Migraines are a headache, literally. Just when you think you are done with a migraine you are surprised by another one and you find yourself wondering if it is ever going to end.
Thankfully, if your menstrual cycle is regular your migraines should be predictable which makes life a little bit easier. Prepare for your next migraine attack by knowing the warning signs, avoiding triggers, eliminating stress, and making a few lifestyle changes.
If you feel like you are stuck in the menstrual migraine cycle, know that there is a way out. Try different simple methods to see what works for you. Get ahead of migraines and show them you are the boss!
Njoud Jweihan is a certified medical doctor and writer from Atlanta, Georgia with vast experience in primary care medicine. She completed a scientific writing program from Stanford university, and found writing to be an excellent way of sharing her medical knowledge. Her interests include women’s health, lifestyle medicine, and preventative care. Njoud loves traveling and exploring different cultures, hours of baking in the kitchen, and spending time with family.