Q: Why do more women suffer from migraines? I seem to get one a few days before my period almost every month.
Dr. Donnica: One in six American women experience migraines. Migraine is much more common in women than men - 3 out of 4 migraine sufferers are female. This is believed to be due to hormonal changes, particularly those related to the menstrual cycle, pregnancy, PMS, and perimenopause (the 2-10 years preceding menopause when hormonal levels fluctuate considerably). Of the 18 million women estimated to be migraine sufferers in the US, apr. two thirds experience migraine right before their menstrual periods. Migraine headaches of this type are typically the most severe and least likely to respond to treatment.
In some women taking birth control pills, migraines may also worsen or increase in frequency (although some women experience the opposite effect). Changing to a lower dose birth control pill may help. The good news about menopause is that migraines usually decrease dramatically. Taking estrogen replacement therapy (ERT) may cause migraines to continue, however. This is not a reason not to take ERT, just another issue to discuss with your health care provider if it affects you.
Despite the prevalence of migraine in women, nearly half of women migraine sufferers surveyed are unaware of this. This causes many women with migraine to feel alone, misunderstood, or ashamed. It causes them to question the seriousness of their condition and avoid seeking treatment. Some women suffer in silence out of fear of being perceived as "weak", emotional, hysterical or unable to handle stress. Ironically, the multiple stressors and roles that many women juggle may contribute to exacerbating a migraine once it starts and may prevent many women from retreating to a restful, quiet environment to get the respite they need. Recent research shows that one in three female sufferers of migraine reported that it has affected their ability to be in control of their lives. Of these women, nearly half (46%) claim they cannot really control their plans or activities, or even function during a migraine attack; one in five reported lost confidence in their ability to do their work, could not think clearly, felt "extremely ill" or felt "depressed". According to most of these women, marriages and other relationships suffer as a result; having migraines also affects women's level of sexual satisfaction.
Created: 9/24/2000  - Donnica Moore, M.D.
Despite the prevalence of migraine in women, nearly half of women migraine sufferers surveyed are unaware of this.