Women and Migraines: Why do They Have More?
Migraine headaches affect 29.5 million Americans, approximately 12% of the U.S. population. Migraines are three times more common in women than men – about 18% of women suffer from migraines vs. 6% of men.
What Causes Women to Have More Migraines?
Women are believed to have a higher occurrence of migraines due to the hormonal milestones that occur over a woman’s lifetime: menarche (menstruation), pregnancy, the postpartum and breastfeeding states, perimenopause, and menopause. Also, the use of oral contraceptives and hormone replacement therapy used by women can increase the frequency and severity of migraines.
In addition, other common migraine triggers include:
- irregular or poor sleep patterns
- irregular and/or inadequate dietary intake
- intake of MSG or sulfites — often found in many fast foods, wine, aged cheeses and chocolate
What’s the Best Way for Women to Treat and Prevent Migraines?
There are many well know preventatives, as well as abortive medications for migraines. However, many patients are either hesitant to take them, or they cannot tolerate them. There are some alternative therapies that might prove helpful; however, one must keep in mind that herbal or “natural” supplements can also cause side effects and may actually interact dangerously with prescription medications or medical conditions. It’s always best to check with your pharmacist or migraine pain specialist prior to starting any alternative supplements.
Botox for migraines is used safely and effectively throughout the country for patients who suffer from more than 15 headache days per month and have exhausted all other medical treatments. It is different from the typical cosmetic use in that 31 injections are given around the head and neck. The effects last approximately 3 months and can be repeated if they are successful. If Botox is effective, patients can usually reduce their medication intake greatly.
Frova (frovatriptan), a prescription drug in the Triptan family, can be especially helpful for menstrual migraine attacks since it has the longest half-life in its drug class. Given two days prior and three days into the menstrual cycle, it can help reduce the occurrence and strength of menstrual migraines.
Melatonin, the hormone secreted by the brain to induce sleep, is also a neuroprotective and an antioxidant; this means that it is used by the body to protect nerve cells against damage, or decay. Unlike most antioxidants, melatonin is easily absorbed into the brain. Studies of melatonin use for migraines are not fully convincing, but do show promise in decreasing frequency and intensity of migraine headaches. Dosages can range from 3-10 mg per night.
Riboflavin, also known as vitamin B2, has been shown to help decrease frequency of headaches when used in high doses. Studies have shown Riboflavin is better at preventing and decreasing the severity of headaches.
Other Herbal Supplements
- Feverfew – The herbal feverfew is known to narrow the blood vessels in the brainstem, similar to the action of the prescription triptan medications, such as Imitrex.
- Butterbur – Also known to prevent, as well as reduced incidence of migraines by reducing swelling and pressure on the blood vessels.
- CoQ10 – A supplement, also known as Coenzyme Q10, has an effect on nerve pain that has been shown to reduce the frequency, but not duration or strength of migraines.
- Magnesium – Studies have shown that magnesium levels are related to migraine attacks; often triggered in people who have lower levels of magnesium. Usually in doses of 400–500 mg per day, magnesium can help prevent migraines, especially in women that experience menstrual-related migraines.
When Should You See a Headache or Migraine Specialist?
Eating a healthy diet at constant intervals, regular sleep habits, exercise, yoga, and meditation are all known to help prevent and decrease the frequency of migraines, but if you’ve tried these things and had no migraine pain relief, it may be time to see a migraine specialist. If you are in the Greater Houston area, Space City Pain Specialists has appointments available at their Webster and Baytown locations with doctors that are experienced in helping patients relieve their migraine pain and suffering. Call our office at 281-338-4443 or click here to request an appointment online.