Why do Women Get More Headaches Than Men?

Find out how hormone fluctuations can increase migraines and other headaches, and the best ways to control them.

Published: Monday 07 March 2022

Image of Two Women Chatting

Headaches, including everything from tension headaches to migraines, affect approximately a third of the world’s population.[1] Whilst broadly characterised by a pain in the head, sometimes affecting the face, neck or shoulders too, headaches range considerably in the type of pain, it’s location, intensity and duration. Migraines are some of the most painful headaches and are a serious health condition, ranked by the World Health Organization as the 6th highest cause of years lost to disability.[2]

Anyone can get a headache, but women experience them more than men do. Migraines, for example, affect an estimated 1 in 5 women, whilst only being experienced by 1 in 15 men.[3] Many factors can cause headaches and migraines, such as stress or lack of sleep, but it’s thought that hormone changes during the menstrual cycle could be central to the gender disparity.

Hormones and Headaches

As children, headaches and migraines tend to affect boys and girls equally, if not a slightly higher rate for boys.[4] But during puberty after girls get their first period, the gender difference in migraine occurrences skews heavily towards females, and this continues until menopause when headache and migraine rates become more equal again between the sexes.

The National Migraine Centre found that over half of women who get migraines have noticed a link with their periods.[2] A quick look at the most commonly-searched headache queries in Google supports this: period headaches, menstrual migraines, menopause headaches, pregnancy headaches, hormone headaches, the list goes on. It’s common for headaches and in particular migraines to occur in the 2 days leading up to your period, or the first 3 days of your period. These “menstrual migraines” tend to be worse than migraines at other times of the month, and are more likely to last multiple days.

Oestrogen Fluctuations Causing Migraines

The main culprit of these migraines is oestrogen fluctuations. As well as regulating the female reproductive system, oestrogen affects neurochemicals that impact the sensation of pain.[5] When oestrogen levels rise or fall sharply, this can cause a headache or migraine that may last up to 72 hours. Times when you’re likely to experience a drop in oestrogen levels include before menstruation when your levels drop to prepare your uterus, or after giving birth since it’s no longer needed to support the pregnancy.[6] Your oestrogen levels might spike during pregnancy, especially in the first trimester, to aid the placenta and uterus transfer nutrients better and support your baby’s development. When you go through perimenopause and menopause your body prepares to shut down the ovaries which results in hormone fluctuations, and similarly birth control may also cause fluctations.

How to Get Rid of A Hormone Headache / Menstrual Migraine

Since migraines can result in severe pain, as well as a number of other symptoms such as nausea, and light and sound sensitivity, they can be debilitating and really disrupt your day. Whilst these migraine management methods may be more effective for some people than others, it’s worth trying a combined approach to increase your chances of preventing and relieving migraine symptoms.

Medication Treatment Methods

  • Over-the-counter pain relief is a good option for headaches, and often for migraines if taken early enough. Ibuprofen and Paracetamol can help to relieve mild to moderate pain, and Nurofen Max Strength Migraine Caplets may help target and relieve the pain even quicker, as will Solpadeine Headache Soluble Tablets thanks to the added caffeine speeding up the effects of the paracetamol.
  • Specialist migraine treatment is more accessible than ever, effectively helping those suffering from migraines get their necessary treatment delivered to their homes as early as the same day. Triptans are a family of medicines that act as serotonin agonists, narrowing the blood vessels to relieve pain and other symptoms caused by migraines. Triptan treatments, such as Migraitan (containing Sumatriptan), are the most effective options for reducing more severe migraine pain, even having an effect at the height of the “attack” phase, although it’s best to take the medication as soon as you experience symptom onset. Zomig (Zolmitriptan) has been found to be one of the best options for menstrual migraines in particular. Other triptan options include Maxalt (Rizatriptan) which is proven to be quicker than Sumatriptan when taken on an empty stomach.

Lifestyle Treatment Methods

  • Avoid common triggers like alcohol and stress where possible
  • Stay hydrated with 1.5 to 2 litres of water per day.
  • Improve your sleep quality and quantity, by being consistent with your wake and sleep times and your meal times, as well as limited caffeine consumption especially after 3pm.
  • Since tension headaches could be caused by muscle stiffness, physical therapy can help, especially around the neck and shoulders.
  • Rest up! Many people find lying down in a dark, quiet room removes the external stimuli that aggravates migraine symptoms.
Sarah Bessell

Written by: Sarah Bessell

Pharmacy Manager

Originally from Australia, Sarah joined the team in 2018 as Pharmica’s Pharmacy Manager. Her job is to manage the dispensary team and the day-to-day running of the pharmacy.

Sarah ensures all our patients receive their orders in a safe and timely manner, and that we continue to provide outstanding patient care.

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Complimentary Methods of Treating Migraines
Complimentary Methods of Treating Migraines