What is the link between hormones and headaches?

Many factors contribute to headaches for both men and women, including family history and age. Women, however, often notice a connection between headaches and hormonal changes.

The hormones estrogen and progesterone play important roles in regulating the menstrual cycle and pregnancy. They may also influence headache-related chemicals in the brain. Premenstrual migraines regularly occur during or after the time when the female hormones, estrogen and progesterone, decrease to their lowest levels. Experiencing estrogen levels that dip or change can make headaches worse.

Menstrual-related migraines

The decrease in estrogen just before your period may result in headaches. Many women with migraines report headaches before or during menstruation.

Your menstrual-related migraines may be cured in several ways, including:

  • Performing relaxation exercises that decrease stress.
  • Applying ice: put a cold cloth or an ice pack to the injured area on your head or neck.
  • Biofeedback may aid in your fight against headaches by helping you see how your body responds to stress.
  • Acupuncture may improve your headaches and assist you to relax.
  • Taking pain relievers. Your doctor may prescribe you non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. These medications may calm your pain soon after your headache starts.
  • Taking triptans. These are medications that block pain signals in your brain. They often calm the pain from your headache within two hours. They also help with vomiting. 
  • Taking a mixture of pain relievers and triptans. Some women may take a combination of NSAIDs and triptans to calm the pain from menstrual migraines.

Your doctor may advise a diuretic during your period, or also limiting the amount of salt you eat.

In case you have a few debilitating headaches a month, preventive treatment with NSAIDs or triptans are advised.

During normal menstrual cycles, it may be crucial to take medication against headaches starting a few days before your period and up to two weeks after the start of your period. If you have migraines throughout your menstrual cycle or if you have irregular periods, your doctor may advise you to take preventive medications daily.

By making certain lifestyle changes, such as decreasing stress and exercising regularly you can manage the frequency, length and severity of migraines to a certain degree.

Hormonal contraception use

Hormonal contraception, such as birth control pills, patches or vaginal rings may maintain and help existing headache patterns — sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse or sometimes with no effect.

For others, hormonal contraception may aid in decreasing the frequency and severity of menstrual-related migraines. It helps by decreasing the drop in estrogen associated with the menstrual cycle.

Using hormonal contraception to stop menstrual-related migraines may be crucial for women who haven’t been helped by other treatments. Other women may first face migraines while using hormonal contraception. If you receive migraines while using hormonal contraception, speak to your doctor for more detailed information and instructions about prevention.


Humanitas is a highly specialized Hospital, Research and Teaching Center. Built around centers for the prevention and treatment of cancer, cardiovascular, neurological and orthopedic disease – together with an Ophthalmic Center and a Fertility Center – Humanitas also operates a highly specialised Emergency Department.