Menstruation is a beautiful thing, a monthly chance to recognize the strength of the female body and the circle of life. Or — it can be a shitty trip down aches, pains, and mood swing street. For many women, it’s also a time for horrible headaches.
Sure, menstruation is a miracle and the body is a wonder, but period headaches suck. About 60 percent of women have menstrual migraines at some point in their life, so if you’ve got an aching head during that special time of the month, you’re not alone.
To try to make your period suck a little less, here are some ways to treat period headaches.
As with most things period related, hormones are to blame. Before your period, estrogen and progesterone levels rise. Then, those levels come crashing down as a signal to your uterus to let that lining go.
This fall in estrogen can trigger headaches. Since birth control regulates this hormonal roller coaster, for some people it can decrease period headaches. For many, birth control makes period headaches worse.
If you have a NuvaRing, headaches during periods are even more common.
Pro tip: If you’re already prone to migraines, you should not use the NuvaRing, as it increases your chances of blood clots and continued headaches.
If you’re on a hormonal pill based birth control, sometimes skipping the placebo week can get rid of period headaches (mostly because it gets rid of your period!).
If you noticed your headaches got much worse after starting hormonal birth control, talk to your doctor. You may need to switch pills or your method of birth control to keep headaches at bay.
Though hormones are a background cause of all period headaches, there are four types of menstrual brain pain that are all slightly different.
1. PMS headache
As you may have inferred from the title, PMS headaches occur before your period. This is partially due to the change in hormones and the drop in serotonin that can occur during PMS.
With PMS headaches you may also get cramping, mood swings, extreme fatigue, and the desire to maul everyone around you. Usually, these headaches are mild to moderate and can be treated with over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers.
If your PMS causes extreme depression, terrible headaches, or interferes with your life, you may have Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder. It’s basically PMS but even worse and you should talk to your doctor to get some symptom relief.
2. Hormonal headache
If your headache occurs right at the start of your period, it’s probably a hormonal headache. When that estrogen decides to drop, your head starts to ache.
You may feel like you have a tight band around your forehand or a general sense of pressure in your head.
As with most period problems, you may also feel cramps, fatigue, and mood swings as a side dish to your hormonal headache main course. These headaches are usually mild to moderate and are mostly treated with good old ibuprofen or Tylenol.
3. Menstrual migraine
A menstrual migraine is exactly the same as a hormonal headache… except it’s much worse. Menstrual migraines have the same symptoms as regular migraines, though you usually won’t get an aura.
Though these are also caused by a drop in hormones, migraines can be accompanied by nausea, vomiting, sensitivity to light, anxiety, and neck pain.
To know if your migraine is menstrual or not, keep track of your headaches. If they always fall in time with your period, they’re hormonal. If they happen at random, then they may not be connected to menstruation.
With migraines, it’s best to treat them early. So, if you know a migraine is on its way when Aunt Flo stops in, start taking ibuprofen or prescribed migraine medication a few days before your period hits. This may not stop the migraine, but it should lessen the pain.
4. Low-iron headache
If your headaches comes at the end or right after your period, you might be hurting from a lack of iron. Everyone loses some iron during their period and for some women, it can make them slightly anemic.
A study found low iron levels can trigger migraines. So, at the end of your cycle, when iron is usually the lowest, there’s a risk of getting horrible period headaches.
These low-iron pains can feel like tension headaches and may come with low energy, dizziness, and cold hands and feet.
Before you start taking iron supplements, see a doctor to be sure that low iron is the cause of your pain. Though you probably won’t OD from taking iron pills, taking too much iron can cause it’s own problems.
So, if you get a late or post-period headache, try basic OTC painkillers and make an appointment with your doctor.
Wouldn’t it be cool if there was an easy thing to take that got rid of all these horrible period symptoms? Yes, it would be cool, but it doesn’t exist. There are, however, some ways to ease the pain.
Help in pill form
The first line of attack for these terrible headaches during your period are basic painkillers. NSAIDS, aspirin, and acetaminophen are your best bets.
If you suffer from migraines, there’s some research that supports using triptans.
Though triptans are available OTC in the UK and Germany, they’re still prescription only in the USA. But, if your migraines don’t respond to OTC treatment, you may want to ask your doc about trying a triptan.
In some cases, hormone therapy can ease period headaches. Though altering your estrogen is complicated, your doctor may suggest giving it a try.
Help in non-pill form
If you don’t want to take medication or you’ve already had enough ibuprofen to ease the cramps of a horse, there are a few home remedies to try.
- Caffeinate. Yes, caffeine can help headaches. But, don’t drink a pot of coffee first thing in the morning. A small amount of caffeine can help, but having too much caffeine can make things worse.
The best thing to do is to have a cup of coffee or some chocolate and see if that helps. And yes, we’re giving you a reason to have chocolate on your period. This way, you won’t feel like some stereotypical lady cartoon, but an informed person doing the best thing for their health.
- Hydrate. When headaches occur, be sure to drink a lot of water. Sometimes, headaches are made worse by simple dehydration and a cup of agua can provide relief.
- Sleep. Try to keep to a good sleep schedule so that you aren’t sleeping too much or too little during your period. A good night’s sleep helps ease tension in the body and tension in your head!
- Relax. Meditation or other relaxation techniques can ease the stress of period headaches and help relieve the pain itself. Try a meditation app or just lay quietly for a few minutes and focus on your breathing. Your relaxed muscles and increased oxygen intake will help soothe your head.
Nervous about visiting the doctor with period pains only to get a response of “It’s just a part of being female. That’ll be $500.” ?
To avoid an unnecessary trip, if your period headaches are mild, there’s probably not much a doctor can do to help. But, if you have extreme nausea, vomiting, or if you can’t go to work because you’re in so much pain, you need to see your doc.
These headaches could have another more serious underlying cause. Even if they are just period headaches, the doctor may be able to prescribe something for your severe symptoms.
All in all, with some trial and error, you should be able to get your monthly head pain under control. When in doubt, consult your doctor. They can help you figure out a treatment plan that works.