What is it?
A common symptom of perimenopause is increased headaches and often debilitating migraines.
A migraine headache is a recurrent, throbbing headache generally felt on one side of the head. Migraines usually begin in early childhood, adolescence, or young adult life.
What causes it?
Migraines are caused by a rapid widening and narrowing of blood vessel walls in the brain and head. This causes the pain fibers in the blood vessel wall to become irritated. Blood vessels in the scalp are often involved. The following items and events (precipitants) have been reported to cause migraine attacks:
- Changes in weather
- Oral contraceptives
- Menstrual periods
- Foods cured with nitrates (e.g., hot dogs)
- Emotional stress
- Meat tenderizers (e.g., MSG)
- Alcoholic beverages.
- It is not known why some individuals have migraines and others do not.
What are its common symptoms?
There are many forms of migraine headaches. The classic migraine and the common migraine are the two main types:
CLASSIC MIGRAINES -- There is usually a warning (aura or prodrome) of an approaching headache attack. Eyesight may suddenly change. Bright spots or zigzag lines are seen. Many people experience double vision or temporary, partial blindness. The change in eyesight is often followed by numbness and tingling of the lips, face, hands (on one or both sides), weakness of an arm or leg, dizziness, unsteadiness in walking, drowsiness, slight confusion of thinking, and inability to speak or slurred speech. Any given person may have only one or a few of these symptoms, and they tend to occur in the same combination in each attack. The symptoms may last for 5 to 15 minutes or more. As these symptoms disappear, a throbbing headache begins on one side of the head. The severity of the headache builds. Once the headache becomes very painful, people often have nausea, vomiting, and sensitivity to light and noise.
COMMON MIGRAINES -- A throbbing headache begins suddenly without warning of an attack. The location of the headache varies. The pain may be on both sides of the head, or it may shift from side to side. Nausea, vomiting, and sensitivity to light and noise usually accompany the headache. Children who have migraines experience mostly common migraines and, therefore, do not have any warning. In addition to the headache, some children experience abdominal pain, which gets better after vomiting.
Is it contagious?
How long will it last?
Migraines can last from a few hours up to several days.
How is it treated?
Treatment for this problem consists of two important parts:
- What you can do, and
- What your health care provider can do.
What can you do?
There are many measures you can try to reduce the pain :
- Some people find relief by applying heat to the area of the head where the pain is most severe. Apply heat in the form of a dry towel warmed in the oven or use a heating pad set on a low setting. Other people gain relief by applying an ice bag wrapped in a towel to the painful area.
- Lying down in a dark, quiet room at the first sign of an attack may also decrease the pain.
- Many people find a relaxation technique helpful when they are lying down.
Concentrate on a soothing thought or image and take slow, deep breaths.
Dearest Recommendations: Try breathing into a small paper bag when in the throes of a migraine, or when you feel one coming on. The paper bag cuts down on the oxygen (organ stimulant), and increases the carbon dioxide intake during inhalation (organ relaxant). Inhale/Exhale for about 30 seconds to one minute. It has served me well during severe headaches/migraines, as well as during anxiety ridden moments - such as holiday shopping
Another recommendation for treating migraines is to take 500 mg. of magnesium at the first onset of a migraine. Read more about magnesium and migraines here.].
- Record on a calendar the date of the migraine, the time it started and ended, and the amount of medication you took. Remember to bring this record with you on follow-up visits to your health care provider. It will help in your treatment.
What can your health care provider do?
Medications are needed by some individuals. Your health care provider may prescribe one or more of the following medications.
- Analgesics -- These medications reduce the pain of a migraine.
- Ergotamine preparations -- These medications interfere with the widening of the blood vessels in the head and decrease the pain of migraines. Note: To enable your body to use most of the medication, it is important to take the medicine at the first sign of an attack. Special arrangements are necessary for school-age children to allow them to take the needed medicine in school.
- Other medications -- Biofeedback is another method being used successfully by some people to reduce migraine attacks and their severity. Your health care provider may refer you to a specialist in biofeedback therapy.
Can you prevent it?
Because migraine headaches may recur for years and constant use of medication can lead to serious side effects, prevention is a key aspect in the management of migraines:
- Pay close attention to your diet. See if a migraine can be prevented by avoiding certain foods (e.g., nuts, cheese, avocados, chocolate, bacon, ham, hot dogs, cold cuts) and tenderizers used in food preparation. If hunger precipitates a migraine, eat frequent small meals on a regular basis. Women who have migraines just prior to their menstrual period should lower the salt in their diet. This helps to decrease water retention associated with precipitating attacks. Avoid alcoholic beverages. Alcohol causes the blood vessels in the body to widen, which contributes to the pain of migraines.
- If stress or emotional conflict triggers the onset of a migraine, it is important to find ways to reduce the stress in your life. Regular exercise (e.g., walking, biking, swimming) and relaxation techniques (e.g., yoga, meditation) may help you. Exercise and relaxation not only reduce stress but, in addition, decrease the severity of the pain and frequency of the headaches. A trained counselor can be helpful in providing assistance to identify stresses in your life and to make suggestions to resolve the problems.
- A regular schedule for sleep is necessary if fatigue precipitates attacks.
- Fatigue may become exaggerated at times of weather change.
- Women with a history of migraine headaches should avoid oral contraceptives. Your health care provider can suggest alternative forms of birth control.
It is a myth that only women get migraines. Men do suffer from migraine headaches. However, migraines occur in women about four times as often as in men. It is also a myth that all bad headaches are migraines. There are many causes for headaches. A tension headache can be as painful as a migraine. People who have head pain should have a medical evaluation.
It is important to return for your follow-up care as advised.
Call your local community center, YMHA, YWCA, or adult education program for information about classes in yoga, meditation, aerobic dance, or other exercise classes. A community mental health center can assist in an evaluation for stress and make a referral to a counselor for you.
Remember.....Notify your health care provider if you have any of the following:
- Headaches that last longer than 2 days
- More than 3 migraine attacks in 1 month
- Warning symptoms of a headache that do not disappear when the headache begins
- Marked change in the severity of the headache
- Questions concerning the symptoms you are experiencing
- Shamansky, S., Cecere, M. C., & Shellenberger, E. (1984). Primary Health
- Care Handbook: Guidelines for Patient Education. Boston: Little, Brown & Co.
- This information has been provided to you via Med Help International (a non-profit organization).