I started charting my migraines in tandem with my menstrual cycle in 2009 in the hopes that I could find some kind of pattern. Below is my first chart and it turns out that in 2009 I had an almost permanent bad head and migraines which often lasted 3 days straight 😦 The numbers along the top of the chart are the days of my menstrual cycle. Down the left are the months of the year. The grey blocks on the left are my actual period (as you can see it didn’t last long!), and the grey area on the right just marks how long my cycle was that month, eg. in Dec08 (the first entry) my cycle was 27 days long and in Jan09 my cycle was 29 days long. It’s clear from the chart that I hadn’t started peri-menopause yet and my cycles were regular as clockwork at between 27 and 29 days.
In 2013 I started my low histamine diet but I was so ill at the time I wasn’t able to keep my charting up, so the next set of data I have is from 2015. I think you can see that after 18 months of eating low histamine foods my migraines have improved substantially and my headaches have disappeared completely, yayyyy 😀 However, you can also see that I am now in peri-menopause. My periods often last a day longer while my cycles are getting shorter sometimes down to 21 days.
I also think it’s clear from the chart that my migraines are now linked to my menstrual cycle with migraines worse during bleeding, mid cycle and again just before the cycle ends and this pattern has continued.
Below is 2017s chart and as you can see there’s about an 80% chance of me having a migraine while I’m having my period which, as the peri-menopause progresses, are getting longer still having gone from two days in 2009 to sometimes five days in 2017. There are then zero migraines in the week following my period – happy days :-). Mid cycle, however, following ovulation which for me is usually around day 12 there is about a 65% chance of a migraine often lasting for more than one day. Then usually another quiet spell until two days before my period begins when there’s around a 75% chance of a migraine.
So what’s going on with our hormones and why are they giving me a sodding headache?! There are three main menstrual hormones: oestrogen (or estrogen if you’re American), progesterone and testosterone. Testosterone is often left out of the hormone equation but I know that for me it plays a big role and is probably responsible for my rampant sex drive at certain times of the month!
By the beginning of the second week (ie day 8) both oestrogen and testosterone are rising, while progesterone stays low. I don’t tend to have any migraines at this time.
By the end of the second week though (days 12-14) progesterone has started to rise and there is a big spike in oestrogen and a smaller spike in testosterone. Then at ovulation testosterone declines and oestrogen crashes, again setting off my migraines which carry on until around day 17/18 when oestrogen once again starts to rise.
All hormones are at their highest in week three of the menstrual cycle (ie days 14-21) and again I see a lull in my migraines.
Then at the end of week four all hormones nosedive and the decline once again sets my migraines off.
It’s easy to blame oestrogen for everything as it’s the hormone which goes up and down the most spectacularly, but it may not be as simple as that. When I look at my migraine pattern it fits the ups and down of testosterone every bit as much as it fits the ups and downs of oestrogen, and of course progesterone comes into the equation just before ovulation when my migraines appear and carries on until the end of the cycle just like the other two hormones. So in fairness it could be any three of the hormones in isolation, or the balance between them which sets my migraines off.
Or it could be something else entirely more complex. For example, oestrogen drives histamine and histamine has been linked to migraine disorder. Or it could be progesterone, which adversely affects collagen and may cause more instability in the neck and spine and thereby cause migraine. Like most things period-related no-one has a clue what’s really going on.
I read differing stores about Menopause and the effect no longer having periods has on migraine disorder, with some women saying it helped enormously and they now hardly ever have migraines and others saying it’s made no difference to their migraine frequency. As my migraines are so clearly linked to my menstrual cycle there’s one thing for sure – Menopause is going to have some effect, it’s just whether that’s going to be for the better or the worse. I guess only time will tell.