Progesterone is a hormone that plays a significant role in menstruation, pregnancy and aging. The chemical form of progesterone, called progestin, is used in birth control pills and, later in life, for hormone replacement therapy. In both sexes, the hormone helps maintain brain, sleep and nerve health. With age, levels naturally decline, which affects a woman’s health in a variety of ways, including reduced skin elasticity and the inability to create new bone. One cause of migraine headaches is a natural drop in progesterone levels.
Headaches and Migraines
Headaches and migraines are common symptoms that occur when progesterone levels fluctuate and bottom out. Women are prone to these symptoms during the menstrual cycle and at ovulation. Hormonal headaches are unpredictable and come on suddenly. They’re especially unpredictable during perimenopause, when the hormone is the most erratic. Women who have previously never had a problem with head pain may start suffering on a regular basis at this point in their lives, according to Marcy Holmes, NP, certified menopause clinician and Women to Women contributor. One way to know for sure if progesterone deficiency is to blame for head pain is by tracking symptoms. Write down when headaches occur along with the start and finish of menses.
One reason experts think that headaches are linked to low progesterone levels is because head pain occurs an estimated three times more often in women than men, according to the National Headache Foundation. While intense headaches are just as common in young girls and boys, the condition increases sharply after the onset of a girl’s periods. An estimated 60 percent of migraines in females occur when progesterone levels are low – around menstruation and ovulation.
Proven effective medications are available for the treatment of progesterone-related head pain. Since these headaches are unique in causation, proper diagnosis can ensure that women are getting the right treatment, according to an article by Stephen D. Silberstein, M.D., published in 2008 in the journal “Headache.” Diagnostic criteria for hormone-associated migraines without aura include attacks that occur exclusively during menstruation in two out of three cycles, pain lasting four to 72 hours, and a variety of characteristics such as pulsating quality or causing nausea or sensitivity to light.
One step to preventing hormonal headaches is through proper nutrition, according to Holmes. Eliminate simple carbs and sugars, including processed foods and baked goods. Ergotamine derivatives, also known as ergot alkaloids, can help treat head pain with rapid onset. Over-the-counter, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen, can provide short-term preventive relief. Other medications that have been proven effective include naproxen sodium, or Aleve, and triptans.