Migraine headaches are horrible, because they can be so excruciating, and because they remain so mysterious (the official definition: "A common type of headache that may occur with symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, or sensitivity to light. In many people, a throbbing pain is felt only on one side of the head.") Doctors have only a vague understanding of what causes them, and how they can best be relieved, and it varies from person to person.
I know a lot about migraines because my mother has suffered from them for most of her adult life. And recently I've experienced some headaches that I think qualify as migraines. That would make sense, since two of the things that they do know about migraines is that they're far more likely to strike women, and that they have a genetic component. It also seems that there's a hormonal aspect—menstruating woman often report that they get migraines around their periods, and women going through menopause or perimenopause often suffer severe ones as their hormone levels fluctuate.
The good news is that migraines often get better, or disappear entirely, once menopause is over. That definitely has been the case for my mom. But for those of us who are still suffering through, I thought I'd ask some women what helped them relieve their menopause-related migraines. If you experience migraines hopefully one of their stories will contain a nugget of information or advice that will help you:
"My migraine headaches, which I have had since age 20, increased during perimenopause phase and became compounded by cluster headaches. Horrible! So I went to a neurologist and headache specialist associated with Kaiser Permanente HMO in San Diego. He took me off the medications I was using (which included Excedrin Migraine and Imitrex) and put me on vitamins! I now take 250 mg of magnesium and 50 mg of vitamin B2 (B2 only, not a B complex) every day. Within 2 weeks, my headaches were gone! After 30 years of them, gone! Now the only time I get a headache is when I forget to take the magnesium and B2 daily. After 2 days, the headaches return. I would recommend it to any Health Goes Strong readers. It cannot hurt them, might help, and believe me, if it works for you, it is well worth the cost of the vitamins."—Beth, mid-50s
"When I was younger, I had the usual tension headaches, which would go away with aspirin. But when menopause began, around the age of 48-50 for me, I developed immobilizing migraines that would last for weeks. I would go to sleep with them and get up with them. I tried several medications that were on the market at that time which basically put me to sleep and had relatively little effect, and then the Imitrex-type drugs, which were new at the time. Luckily, once menopause was completed, the migraines stopped. I still have tension headaches (from work and life!) but NOTHING like before. Now I only take OTC meds for relief." –Sydney, 63
"I've suffered from migraines since college. They are non-aura migraines, and I almost always wake up with them and they last for three days. The pain is always behind one temple or the other. Before menopause, they would most often occur around my menstrual cycle. As I went through menopause they actually lessened in both frequency and intensity, and now that I'm about 4 years past menopause I have them very infrequently. The best relief I've received is from Imitrex, which Glaxo-Smithkline makes. It almost completely alleviates the pain, though I have to take another pill each day until the headache is gone completely. I often feel a little bit of a 'fog' on the third or fourth day, after the headache is gone. I've also learned to avoid most wine, especially red wine, because that's a trigger for me, and to recognize pre-migraine symptoms, such as a stiff neck. If I suspect a migraine is coming on I take an Excedrin Migraine the night before and then I can usually avoid waking up with one." –Christel, 58
"I've suffered from migraines since my 20s but it took 20 years for them to be diagnosed because they don't involve pain, but horrible, debilitating vertigo. The room spins, I throw up, and often I've had to stay in bed for days at a time. I'd sometimes experience an aura, like broken glass around the edges of my vision, right before a bout of vertigo came on, and I noticed these spells often occurred when I had PMS, but I didn't realize that they were migraines until my 40s, when a neurologist at Columbia Presbyterian in NYC diagnosed me. He said that the typical migraine drugs wouldn't work and told me to take 5 mgs of valium as soon as I feel one coming on. If I do that, it stops it in its tracks, though if I wait to take the valium, I'm doomed. That treatment kept me essentially vertigo-free for 10 years. It was such a relief! But now at 54 I am just entering menopause and like clockwork I feel them coming in days before my period. Now I get auras regularly, they look like lightening bolts at the edge of my vision. The valium worked reliably until last month. I felt the telltale pre-vertigo signs, I took the valium as I had always, but it did not work. I had the first really violent bout of vertigo in years and years and it wiped me out for a week. This month the valium worked again. I will be interested to see what happens going forward." –Deb, 54
Do you suffer from migraines? Did they get worse, or better, with menopause? Which treatments have brought you relief? Please share!