Every year, over 10 million people aged 15-69 suffer from migraines, making migraines one of the most common health concerns in the UK. Over the years, migraine has become an especially common ailment, and the likelihood is, if you haven’t ever suffered from one yourself, you probably know someone who has.
What makes migraines so disabling is their impact on almost every aspect of a person’s life, from their work, education, relationships to mental health—you name it.
And don’t forget the enormous cost to the economy, with around £4.4 billion a year, is lost to three million migraine-related sick days. But did you know that more women suffer from migraines than men?
Statistics show as many as three times as many women as men suffer from migraines! This gender often endures migraines more frequently and for greater periods. But why is this the case? In this article, we will look at the two major contributors to why women suffer more migraines than men.
A lot of women who complain about migraines have reported a connection between their menstrual cycle and their migraine attacks. For many, their migraine symptoms start right before or during their period, often lasting days!
But why does this happen?
- Scientists have linked this occurrence of migraines to the natural drop in estrogen levels that occur before your period starts.
- This decline in estrogen is suspected to trigger a fall in serotonin levels (a neurotransmitter that stabilizes our mood, feelings of well-being, and happiness).
- The decline in serotonin then disrupts the function of the trigeminal nerve leading to the release of chemicals called vasodilators.
- Vasodilators cause blood vessels in your brain to swell.
- These swelling blood vessels put pressure on the brain, leading to migraines.
As you can see, the human body is truly complex and one event often has a cascade effect!
By definition, if you have migraine attacks that start between the two days before your period and the third day of flow, you likely have a menstrual migraine. Most times, these attacks are more severe, last longer, and cause greater light sensitivity than migraine attacks occurring other times of the month.
But during pregnancy, estrogen levels increase rapidly, helping the uterus and placenta better transfer nutrients and support the development of the baby. Therefore, many women report temporary reprieve from migraines during their pregnancy.
However, after giving birth, the level of estrogen drops significantly because it is no longer needed to support a pregnancy. The result—migraines come back.
Many women have come to accept headaches as a normal part of having a menstrual cycle. This is because menstrual migraines do not always respond to the same medicines that work on migraine attacks happening at other times. Doctors are yet to come up with a conclusive answer to why this is the case.
This doesn’t mean there are no treatment options, it just means they might not work for everyone. But with new medical advancements every year, we are bound to come up with more effective and long-lasting solutions.
Some women get migraines for the first time in the years just before menopause. For other things just get worse with their migraines increasing in frequency and severity. This period is known as perimenopause and can last up to ten years.
Though it’s part of the journey of being a woman, it can be an overwhelming time filled with irregular menstrual cycles, hyperhidrosis, difficulty sleeping...etc.
Though a precise explanation for why migraines increase during perimenopause is yet to be uncovered, medical experts point to a couple of culprits:
- Hormonal fluctuations- very similar to how menstrual migraines occur
- Heavier periods-perimenopause can often cause you to have heavier blood flow during your period, which can lead to iron deficiency and an increased prostaglandin release in the body, both of which can contribute to migraines.
- Stress & disrupted sleep - this period is distressing for many women as their bodies are changing, which can bring about unforeseen or even surprising concerns. Stress and poor quality of sleep are known triggers for migraines.
The good news is that there are steps you can take if you notice more migraine attacks as you near menopause. For instance, adopting healthy sleep habits and stress management may be helpful for your migraines and will also improve your overall health.
In addition, have a conversation with your doctor about migraine preventive treatment options.
When Migraines Turn Chronic
Despite the vast prevalence of migraine and its serious effect on individuals, families and the economy, migraine remains a poorly understood condition that is often undiagnosed and under-treated.
While most sufferers experience attacks once or twice a month, thousands of women have chronic migraines, with at least 15 migraine days per month. Over 90% of them are unable to work or function normally during their migraines, which significantly diminishes their quality of life.
But finding effective treatment to reduce the number of attacks is critically important, because “migraines beget migraines.” The more of them you have, the more vulnerable you become to having another.
Not every woman has found success in treating their migraines through traditional migraine medication. Also, medication overuse is a leading cause of episodic migraine turns chronic!
As a result, a lot of women suffering from chronic migraines are looking for alternative treatments. One of such treatments is the world’s favourite wrinkle treatment, Botox.
Getting Botox® Injections as Treatment for Chronic Migraine
Scientific studies have shown that Botox can significantly reduce the frequency of chronic migraine headaches, and this treatment is effective, safe, and well-tolerated among migraine patients.
In fact, Botox has been FDA-approved for treating chronic migraines for over a decade now.
The treatment involves 31 shots across the forehead, in the temples, in the back of the head and down the back of the neck, and it needs to be repeated every three months.
What makes Botox works really effective in putting a stop to migraine headaches is its ability to block neurotransmitters that carry pain signals from your brain. Think of Botox as a roadblock that stops the chemicals involved in pain transmission before they get to the nerve endings around your head and neck.
If you try Botox and you don’t respond, that doesn’t mean you never will. Some patients don’t respond until the second or third time. It’s a lot to go through, but we encourage patients who haven’t responded at first to give it another try – sometimes the third time really is the charm.
Our patients who respond say that it is absolutely worth it.
Botox is an excellent alternative for women who can’t get their headaches under control with the usual medications, or who suffer from problematic side effects from those drugs.
My patient’s reduction in reliance on migraine medication and the restored ability to function at work and in social life is what makes me such a big proponent for using Botox to treat chronic migraines.