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How Women's Migraines Differ from Men's

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How Women's Migraines Differ from Men's

May 11, 2023

Migraine headaches are more common in women than in men—about 17 percent of women will have migraine. Women's health expert Kirtly Jones, MD, distinguishes between women's migraines and men's migraines. Dr. Jones also provides tips for dealing with the pain that comes from what can be a debilitating condition for some patients with migraines.

Episode Transcript

Well, a headache is not a headache is not a headache, there are different headaches, and today on The Scope, how women's headaches differ from men's headaches and what you need to know and hopefully get some relief.

I'm a migrainer. A migrainer is a person who has migraine headaches and migraine headaches are much more common in women than they are in men. About 17% of women will have migraine so that makes it pretty common.

What are Migraines?

Migraines are a kind of headache that occur usually on one side of the head or the other. They may have some kind of aura, some kind of visual sign that the headache is coming and they can be quite intense. They usually don't last for days and days, but women have them more than men and there's relief out there.

Diagnosing Migraines

So, how do you know you have a migraine? Most women think any bad headache is a migraine but migraines are different from the other kind of headache that women get which is tension headaches. So a tension headache is felt more in the front of the head or the back of the head and it feels kind of like a band and we think it is related more to muscle tension and it responds pretty well to ibuprofen. So clearly not all headaches are migraines.

Migraines used to be thought to be due to changes in the blood supply to the head but it is not really that we still barely understand it, but it tends to be more on one side or the other and it got more visual problems associated with it, more nausea and vomiting associated with it and it is more likely to change with your period.

Women Have More Migraines than Men

So, why do women have more migraine than men? Well, migraines seem to be associated with ups and downs. Ups and downs in food ups and downs in sleep ups and downs in hormones. In the migraine world, they call those triggers. What are your triggers for migraine? Women go up and down in their hormones and men don't usually men don't have periods. So women may have more migraines related to the ups and downs in their hormones.

Know Your Triggers and Treating Your Migraines

What do you do about it? First of all, I think it's important to get a diagnosis. Do you have migraines? What are your triggers? It could be food, it could be alcohol, it could be sleep, it could be bright sunshine, it could be hormones. So it's important for women with migraines to know what their triggers are. Sunshine actually, bright sun, is a common trigger for many people. Sleeplessness is a common trigger and for women uniquely their menstrual cycle can be a common trigger. So it's important for women with migraines to know their triggers which can help prevent the migraine from coming if you take it early in the course of your headache or when you have that amazing aura.

So know your triggers, and think about medications. There is some data that even low doses of aspirin taken every day may help some women with migraines. The great news for women is the majority of women with migraines get better when they go through menopause. The perimenopause can be rocky for migrainers, with hormones going up and down. But, after menopause when hormones are down, the majority of migrainers have a decrease in their headaches and a decrease in their pain.

When to Seek Emergency Care for Your Migraines

If you have the worst headache of your life, a blinding headache associated with numbness or difficulty speaking or difficulty moving, this is an emergency and you need to go to the emergency room. But, there's medication to prevent them and medication to treatment. You should be able to see your physician to talk about these things. There's good hope for the future.


updated: May 11, 2023
originally published: October 8, 2013