Hot flashes during menopause have become an expectedif not
exactly welcomefeature of middle age for many women. But few
are prepared for the increasing number of severe migraines that
can signal menopause is in the offing (a period of time known as
Periomenopausal migraines can be a debilitating condition
that interferes significantly with a womans quality of life,
said Margaret Moloney, clinical associate professor in the Nell
Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing. Add stress from juggling
a career, adolescent children and aging parents to hormonal shifts,
weather patterns and menstrual cycles, and the results can mean
migraines for anywhere from four hours to as long as three days
for some women.
During perimenopause, fluctuating estrogen levels can intensify
existing headaches or cause new ones. And although menopause-related
disturbances such as hot flashes have been an increasingly popular
topic in clinical practice and research, migraine headaches have
yet to receive the attention they deserve, Moloney said. Many women,
she said, do not even know they are experiencing migraines.
About half of all women with migraines dont seek medical
attention for what they think are just bad headaches, so they dont
get diagnosed and ultimately dont get treated, she said.
Health care providers should consider mentioning migraines
when they examine women for other conditions.
Moloney has begun a two-year pilot study to investigate the ways
in which women take care of their migraine headaches and how the
headaches affect their lives. Perimenopausal women who experience
migraines use the Internet to answer questionnaires and participate
in online chat groups. The study is being funded by the National
Institute for Nursing Research/National Institutes of Health.
Contrary to most beliefs, a migraine is not just a bad headache.
A headache is just one of the symptoms of migraine pain. Because
migraines result from irritation of the nerves in the face, migraines
can cause nasal congestion and facial pain. Migraine sufferers may
also experience nausea, vomiting, vertigo, fatigue, sensitivity
to light and sound, and flashing lights in their field of vision.
Moloney is particularly interested in the preventive measures women
can take to prevent the triggers for migraines.
Medications alone may not be enough, Moloney said. They
dont completely solve the problem, and they dont work
well for all people. Additionally, medications cant be used
all of the time because of their side effects.
Moloney suggested that women with headaches monitor their lifestyles
for conditions that trigger migraines. For example, they can try
to decrease their stress levels or reduce their consumption of particular
types of alcohol, such as red wine. Changes in the weather can also
trigger migraine episodes for some women. In addition to avoiding
triggers, herbs such as feverfew and vitamins like riboflavin are
other preventive measures. But it is important to consult a health
care provider before taking any supplements, Moloney cautioned.