Symptoms of Headaches
- Aching pains on both sides of the head
- Squeezing sensation in forehead, back of the head and temples
- Sweaty feet and hands
- Excruciating pain in the head or behind the eyes
- Nausea and vomiting
- Sensitivity to sound
- Sensitivity to light
- Pain when engaging in physical activity
- Dull pain
- Red, inflamed eyes
- Tenderness on scalp and shoulder muscles
- Loss of appetite
- Weak and lethargic
- Pain that lasts longer than 24-48 hours
- Difficulty concentrating
- Difficulty sleeping
- Muscle sensitivity
- Weakness of arms and legs
- Sudden eyesight changes, such as blurred or double vision and partial blindness
- Difficulty speaking
- Intense throbbing
As menopause brings many different symptoms, the 47% of women experiencing them can probably all vouch that the headaches and migraines can be the most debilitating symptom to endure. Some menopausal headaches can be so severe that it can be difficult for a woman to complete regular daily tasks. Menopause headaches and migraines are related to hormonal changes and usually are the most aggressive during perimenopause – a time when the hormonal fluctuations begin and can drastically worsen existing headaches or cause new ones.
Hormonal headaches are usually felt on one side of the head, but can be on both sides. Although the type of headache can vary between woman due to hormonal variations, menopause headaches can last between one hour and up to three or four days.
What is a Headache?
A headache is a pain that occurs in one’s head and upper neck region of the body, commonly affecting a small portion of the head or the entire head.
Three Common Types of Headaches
- One of the most common menopausal headaches is a migraine. The migraine is a throbbing headache that is usually reoccurring. Studies show that perimenopause migraines are linked to hormones and are often onset the first or second day of menstruation and ends when the period is over. Some migraines can accompany mild to severe auras that are uncomfortable visual experiences. Other types of migraines are the Ophthalmologic Migraine with pain around the eyes and may include vomiting; the Carotidynia migraine which is a facial migraine that induces deep aches and pains; and the headache-free migraine that includes auras. With Ophthalmologic migraines, once the pain continues, ptosis can occur. Ptosis is when the eyelids drop creating and the nerves that move the eyes can become paralyzed.
- Tension Headaches, also known as the common headache, feels like a tightening on both sides of the head. The type of pain may be constant, dull, sharp or sudden. The tension headache occurs mostly with women over the age of 20 and can last for extended periods of time. Tension headaches are a form of menopausal headaches and range from mild to moderate. There can also be pain in the neck and the base of the scull. Episodic and Chronic headaches are the two types of tension headaches. Episodic tension headaches usually occur less than 15 times a month. The pain is usually mild to moderate pressure with throbbing. Usually the pain is gradual and can last 30 minutes and up to three days. Studies show that episodic tension headaches occur usually at midday. Chronic Tension Headaches more than 15 days a month and are experiences throughout the day. Pain is experienced in the front, side, and top of the head.
- Sinus headaches are the third most frequent menopausal headache. Sinus headaches, also known as congestion headaches, are caused by blockage and inflammation of the sinus cavity. Symptoms of a sinus headache are difficulty in concentrating, nasal congestion, nasal discharge that can be discolored and have a bad odor, pressure and pain around the face, persistent and continual colds, fever, tiredness, post nasal drip, and sinus infection or soreness.
Causes of Headaches
Menopause can bring with it painful and overwhelming headaches or migraines. These headaches fall into one of two categories: those caused by hormones and those caused by external factors.
Because the onset of menopause has a direct link to fluctuating estrogen and progesterone levels, headaches are likely to occur due to the hormonal imbalance. In fact many physicians believe that a high rise in estrogen levels and then a sudden drop can cause severe migraine headaches. In the early stages of menopause, many women suffer from what is known as peri-menopausal migraine, or migraines caused by the hormone changes experienced in early menopause. Although this condition will improve for most women as they age, slightly less than half will experience worsening symptoms. The severity of these migraines and the length of time for which they are experienced are determined by the rapidly fluctuating estrogen levels in the female body while undergoing menopause. Some women experience a massive surge in estrogen, and others a massive drop. These fluctuations in hormones cause the blood vessels to expand and contract at an unusually continuous rate, which causes pain and discomfort particularly in the head. Not all these symptoms can be explained by hormones alone. Now we’ll take into account external factors.
There are many external factors, non-hormonal related, that cause headaches and migraines, but are often overlooked because of their simplicity. Excessive exposure to intense light, strong odors, or loud noise for any period of time can increase the likelihood of suffering from a migraine. Changes in the weather, particularly during the winter months, can significantly affect the mood and increase the release of stress hormones, leading to more frequent headaches. Eye strain, such as reading in low or dim light, can strain the eyes and cause headaches. Other than external influences, there are also the factors of lifestyle choice to consider. Drinking, especially binge drinking, can significantly increase the intensity and duration of headaches, as can the consumption of significant quantities of caffeine. Sleep is important in staying healthy; eight hours a day is ideal for the average adult. Diet plays a significant role; the bodies of individuals on a poor diet are prone to more frequent, more severe headaches. Artificial sweeteners such as aspartame should be avoided. All the above factors lead to one common result: increased stress. When treated poorly, your body becomes vulnerable and unable to effectively cope with changes in your internal and external environment.
- Emotional Stress
- Red wine
- Mold and Mildew
- Scented Candles
- Canned soup
- Peanut Butter
- Hot dogs
- Lunch meats
- Smoked fish
- Monosodium glutamate (MSG)
- Soy Sauce
- Snow Peas
- Red Plums
- Heavy Metal Toxicity – Mercury and Lead
- Pre-packaged or encased meat
- Soy products
Although menopause-related headaches can be alleviated through daily lifestyle adjustments, dietary changes and several treatment options, it is advised to see a doctor or healthcare professional in the beginning stages of your headaches. If your pain is progressively getting worse, disrupting your sleeping patterns, throbbing throughout the day and night, followed with a fever, and you are feeling dizzy and weak, it is advised to go see your primary doctor or healthcare provider. Even if your headaches aren’t severe, you should see a physician on a regular basis. This can help you and your doctor stay abreast of your particular situation and choose the most effective and suitable strategies for you. As you move through menopause, pay attention to what your body is telling you and never hesitate to seek professional help.
By implementing the daily lifestyle and dietary changes, you can take a giant step forward in reducing or eliminating menopause-onset headaches. Luckily, there are several more avenues of treatment available to address the wide range of symptoms and problems women experience with menopause-onset headaches.
Daily Lifestyle Changes
- Get a Full Night’s Rest – It is vital to get the recommended eight to nine hours of sleep to help decrease tension and irritability that could cause a stress-related headache.
- Exercise – Adopting a gentle exercise regime that will increase your physical exertion can make a difference in the number and intensity of your menopausal headaches. Exercise not only helps control stress, but it increases endorphin levels, which raises your threshold for pain.
- Stress Reduction and Relaxation – Relaxation exercises, breathing exercises, massage, hypnosis, yoga and visualization techniques are all wonderful ways to help headaches caused by stress and minimize the effects on your body during menopause.
- Improve Your Posture – Poor posture can contribute to headaches, so it is advised to not slouch and work, to keep the body in full alignment when sitting in chair at work or at home and to wear supportive footwear when standing.
- Get a Full Night’s Rest – It is vital to get the recommended eight to nine hours of sleep to help alleviate joint pain and reduce stress.
- Avoid Alcohol and Caffeine – Both can severely affect your sleep cycles
- Stay Hydrated – One of the most important diet changes to minimize menopausal headaches is to drink at least eight glasses of water a day
- Eat Five Small Meals a Day – Eating five small meals a day is crucial to prevent low blood sugar, which is known to cause migraines. Eating sporadically, missing meals and dieting send your body into survival mode.
- Reduce Refined Carbohydrates and Sugar – High carb diets promote prolonged high levels of insulin and can cause migraines. Refined carbohydrates and sugar can slow down the system and can cause increased strain on your headaches.
- Phytoestrogens – Adopt a dietary plan that includes foods that contain phytoestrogens. These plant estrogens bind to estrogen receptors in your body and can alleviate headaches. Soy, tofu, beans, legumes, seaweed, potatoes, apples and carrots are all wonderful sources of phytoestrogens.
- Replenishing Your Diet – Eating more calcium-rich foods, magnesium-rich foods and Vitamin E-foods, like green vegetables, nuts and almonds, are other easily adaptable diet changes to help alleviate headaches.
- Omega-3 Essential Fatty Acids – Eat oily fish like salmon, mackerel and tuna that are high in omega-3 fatty acids because they provide EPA, which instructs your body to produce fewer chemicals that increase sensitivity to pain and cause constriction of the blood vessels.
- Eat More Fruits – Fruits contain natural anti-inflammatories that will help fight menopausal headaches, without any harsh chemicals or drugs. Fruits include cherries, berries, pineapples, apples and bananas. Bananas contain bromelain, a strong anti-inflammatory enzyme that helps the body break down protein.
- Vitamins - Riboflavin (Vitamin B) helps the enzymes in a migraine sufferer’s body tap into the energy stores in brain cells and helps prevent migraines. B Vitamins help prevent headaches, especially B-6. Bioflavonoids (Vitamin P) are naturally-occurring phytochemicals that are powerful antioxidants that fight free radicals. Arginine (an essential amino acid) allows arteries to expand and contract more easily, thus allowing blood and oxygen to flow more freely throughout the body. Calcium helps relax the muscles, while CoQ10 works as a preventive treatment as it increases energy stores in the brain.
- Alternative Medicine – Chinese medicine (acupuncture) has been a long standing treatment for headaches around the world. Acupuncture is a medical treatment involving the insertion of sharp sterile needles into the body at specific points according to a mapping of “energy pathways.” Acupuncture in particular has produced outstanding results in pain management for many women.
- Black Cohosh One of the most commonly used herbal remedies is Black Cohosh, a perennial plant that is a member of the buttercup family. It provides powerful phytoestrogens that mimic the hormone’s effects and bind to hormone receptors in the uterus and other parts of the body, alleviating hot flashes. Black Cohosh is also known to relieve hot flashes efficiently and is a good alternative to HRT. It is also used effectively for treating PMS, arthritis and lowering blood pressure. Red Clover, Dong Quai, Ginseng, Kava and evening primrose oil can be used as natural therapies, although there are some risks involved. Herbal supplements are not as closely regulated as prescription drugs and the amount of the herbal product, quality and safety may vary between brands.
- Herbal Remedies – Eucalyptus oil, feverfew, ammonia, cayenne pepper, celery seeds, lithium, ginger and menthol are common herbal remedies to alleviate headaches. The two commonly known herbs for treating joint pain are phytoestrogen and non-estrogenic herbs. Some of the most common phytoestrogen herbs are Saint Johns Wort, Black Cohosh and Dong Quai – all which contain estrogenic components produced by plants and replace some of the missing estrogen hormones experienced as a result of menopause. Although these herbs are known to maintain the balance of key neurotransmitters in the brain, they can also make your body less responsive to producing its own hormones, causing a further decrease of one’s hormone levels. Non-estrogenic herbs are known to nourish one’s hormonal glands into producing its own natural hormones. By stimulating one’s own hormone production, non-estrogenic herbs, such as Macafem. Macafem is grown in the Andes of Peru and has achieved great success in naturally increasing one’s hormone levels.
- Over-the-Counter Medication – It is recommended to use pain relievers for headaches, such as Acetaminophen (Tylenol) and Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, also known as NSAIDS), such as Ibuprofen (Advil), Aspirin (Bayer, Anacin) and Naproxen (Naprosyn or Aleve) and read all labels and instructions extremely carefully before taking them.
- Hormone Replacement Therapy – For more severe cases of head aches, women may seek surgical or pharmaceutical treatments, although it is important to keep in mind that there are many studies showing hormone replacement therapy (HRT) increases a woman’s risk of elevated blood pressure, endometrial and breast cancers, strokes, blood clots and gallbladder disease. It is advised to speak with your doctor or healthcare professional regarding the negative side effects before you begin treatment.