10 Essential Facts About Women and Migraines

This post is sponsored by Pernix, the makers of TREXIMET®.

Did you know that women are three times more likely to experience migraines than men?[v]

More than 32 million Americans, 70 percent of whom are women, suffer from migraines, according to www.mayo.edu, the Mayo Clinic website. Anyone who has ever experienced a migraine knows it is a headache like no other and can be completely debilitating.  To help you understand the nature of this condition, and reduce your chances of getting a migraine, FabOverFifty sat down with Heather McCoy, Doctor of Nursing Practice and board-certified in headache medicine by the National Headache Foundation. Dr. McCoy treats her patients at Integrative Headache Care in Scottsdale, AZ.

1. What is a migraine, In layman’s terms?

A migraine is a complex, neurologic condition associated with episodes or “attacks” of symptoms that last several hours to several days,[i] including severe pounding, throbbing pain on one or both sides of the head, nausea, an aversion to lights, sounds, and smells, all of which are worse with physical activity.[ii]

2. What’s the difference between a headache and a migraine?

People rarely miss work, school, and social events because of a headache, but with migraine, these things are often practically impossible.[iii] Even thinking and concentration can be affected.[iv]

3. Who is most susceptible to migraines?

Women are three times more likely to suffer from migraines than men.[v] One out of every four women will experience a migraine at least once in her life, but they do tend to lessen after menopause.[vi] However, it’s important to know that anyone, even children, can experience a migraine.[vii]

4. Why do people get migraines? Are there certain triggers?

We don’t really know why some people get migraines and others don’t, but yes, many migraine sufferers can identify a “trigger,” something they know can cause them to have a migraine attack, such as lack of sleep, skipping a meal, stress, or changes in weather or altitude.[viii] Some people may have attacks triggered by certain foods, such as alcohol or chocolate, or certain smells like cigarette smoke or perfume.

5. Can a woman tell if a migraine is coming? What are the signs?

Some migraine sufferers experience an “aura,” a change in sensation that occurs right before a migraine attack, often affecting vision with bright dots or zig-zag lines.[ix] Others may experience a phase of migraine called the prodrome, which is a set of symptoms that can occur up to 48 hours before a migraine headache sets in.[x] Prodrome may include appetite changes, irritability or fatigue. Most migraine attacks occur without warning, so it’s important to have rescue medication available at all times.

6. Are migraines debilitating? What can happen (overall) to a woman while she’s experiencing one?

Migraines can be extremely debilitating. In fact, a migraine headache is the sixth most disabling disease in the world.[xi] It can interrupt work, school, daily activities, and social activities. When a woman experiences a migraine, she may need to stop what she’s doing and completely withdraw into a dark, quiet room until the migraine stops.

7. Is there a relationship between menopause and migraines?

Interestingly, migraines often become less severe and less frequent around the age of 50, about the same time as menopause for many women.[xii]  However, some studies have suggested that menopause makes migraine worse for up to 45% of women. This may be because the symptoms that can be experienced during menopause (hot flushes and night sweats) result in disturbed sleep, increasing stress levels and lowering the threshold for migraine attacks.

  • I could write a book about migraines (was a former medical writer) but I did write an Article entitled Five Doctors and a Migraine.

    Very little is known and it sounds like little progress has been made – just the name of the medicine. All the suggestions about sleep, healthy diet and exercise which are good things are given for just about anything that ails you. I hear nothing new that I haven’t heard years ago when this all started. I used to take something called Cafregot (probably no longer on the market). My dentist said it was caused by TMJ; my ENT said it was caused by a deviated septum which if repaired would solve the problem; my psychiatrist said it was caused by stress; My ob-gyn said it was caused by endometriosis; and my endocrinologist said it was hormonal.

    And these are just a few of the many drs. I consulted including specialized headache clinics.I’m sure no one knows what the Codden Cocktail is anymore but this was a famous headache guy who charged a lot and concocted his own “cocktail” to treat the ailment”

    In retrospect for me I’m sure it was hormonal possibly with a bit of endometriosis thrown in.. There weren’t many female ob-gyns at that time. I realized that these horrific episodes always occurred around my period. The migraines completely stopped after menopause. I found that a combination of valium and cafregot or some other painkiller and sleep in a dark room helped. When my period stopped so did the migraines.

    There’s no one answer for everyone but I know how debilitating it is and people who don’t have them can’t possibly understand what they feel like (although cluster headaches are the worst of any and I believe they predominantly affect men)-

    in my case I had to plan my life around my periods and I jumped for joy when I finished menopause. Just one person’s story.

    Bess Heitner