Migraine and your period

By: Rachel Baxter, Communications Officer, The Migraine Trust

10th November 2022

Many people experience migraine attacks during or around their period. In this blog, we answer commonly searched questions about migraine and periods.

Are migraine attacks a sign my period is coming?

Yes, they can be. Many people experience migraine attacks that are linked to their period as a result of the hormone oestrogen dropping at this time of the month. For those who experience this kind of migraine, it is most common to have a migraine attack in the two days before your period starts or during the first three days of your period.

Are period headaches normal?

Getting headaches or migraine attacks before or during your period is normal and affects many people. It should not be a cause for alarm but it is worth discussing with your doctor so that you can explore treatment options to reduce the pain. Keeping a diary of your symptoms and when you experience them for at least three months will help you work out if your headaches are linked to your periods.

Why do I get migraine attacks with my period?

Menstrual migraine attacks are often linked to a drop in the hormone oestrogen which happens just before your period starts. Prostaglandins, which act like hormones and cause your uterus to contract during your period, have also been linked to menstrual migraine attacks. People with very heavy and painful periods tend to have higher levels of these prostaglandins, so they might be more likely to also experience migraine attacks during their period.

Why are menstrual migraine attacks so bad?

Unfortunately, many people find that their migraine attacks are at their worst during their period. Menstrual migraine attacks can be more severe and painful than attacks at other times in the month, although we don’t know exactly why this is. They may also last longer and be less responsive to treatment. If your attacks are impacting your daily life you should visit your GP to discuss possible treatments to help you.

Most people who experience migraine attacks during their period also experience them at other times of the month due to triggers such as lack of sleep, dehydration and stress. People who only experience migraine attacks around their period are usually diagnosed with pure menstrual migraine.

I get a migraine attack at the start or end of my period, is this normal?

Yes, this is normal. It is most common to experience menstrual migraine attacks in the two or three days before your period starts or in the first days of your period, as this is when your oestrogen levels drop. However, some women do experience migraine attacks towards the end of their period or as their period finishes.   

Are migraine and cramps on my period linked?

Period pains or cramps and menstrual migraine attacks do not cause one another, but they can both be triggered by your period. Menstrual migraine has been linked to both changes in levels of the hormone oestrogen as well as prostaglandins which are involved in bodily processes like inflammation. Prostaglandins are lipids that act like hormones and their levels increase during your period. They are involved in period cramps and people who experience more severe period pains tend to have higher levels of them.

So, if you experience noticeable cramps alongside migraine, increased levels of prostaglandins may be triggering both. If your menstrual migraine and/or menstrual cramps are painful and bothersome, you should speak to your GP about possible treatments.

What is the treatment for a migraine attack during my period?

There are multiple treatment options for menstrual migraine and your GP will determine which suits you best based on your symptoms and medical history. Treatments might include migraine medications called triptans, over-the-counter painkillers and hormone supplements. For more information about menstrual migraine treatments, click here. To read about all the treatment options for migraine, click here.

You can read more about menstrual migraine here. You can learn about migraine and contraception here