Why Migraines Are More Prevalent in Women

In the United States, headaches are a part of the daily struggle for over 45 million people. Of them, migraine headaches are by far the most prevalent and require professional attention to combat the often times debilitating symptoms. The intense pain felt during a migraine is a direct result from blood vessels in the brain constricting, creating the wavy rush of pain that occurs in vascular headaches. No concrete cause for migraines is known, but the hyperexcitability of the cerebral cortex and lack of control over pain neurons is the most supported scientific theory. Interestingly enough, women suffer from these sorts of headaches, and other forms, much more than men do. Genetic predispositions, most notably, fluctuation of hormones may have something to do with this.

Migraines are about three times more common in women than men. Most researchers believe there is a very plausible scientific reason for this: female hormones. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services lists that more than half of migraines in women will occur right before, during or after her menstrual period. Although some women experience migraines outside of their menstrual period, it’s clear that dramatic fluctuation of hormones could very well be a root cause for the headaches.

This is because, as a woman's cycle begins, her estrogen and progesterone hormone levels of drop significantly. The dramatic decrease in hormone levels is important because estrogen has been shown to have an affect on brain chemicals that control pain sensation. With estrogen levels at abnormal lows during the menstrual cycle, migraine headache symptoms become much more painful.

In no way do hormones explain the entire picture, it’s important to note that a recent study suggests that women with a history of migraines are less likely to develop breast cancer than other women. Breast cancer has been linked to high levels of estrogen in many studies, so with a high frequency of migraines and decreased risk for breast cancer, the hormone theory can be supported.
 
Symptoms, duration and frequency of migraines will vary greatly among individuals, and can be incapacitating to some people.  Migraines sometimes begin with a prelude of sensory warning signs such as seeing flashes of light, blind spots or feeling nauseous. Other symptoms include:

-- Usually a unilateral intense, throbbing or pulsing pain on one side of the head, though sometimes occurs on both sides.

-- Feeling "pins and needles" in a limb.

-- Sensitivity to light or loud sounds.

-- Pain that worsens with physical activity and/or interferes with daily functioning.

In some people, the pain lasts for a short period of time, while other patients must cope with lingering symptoms lasting up to three days. Some people experience migraines regularly, sometimes daily, while others have them more irregularly. Although there is no easy fix for migraine headaches, the symptoms can be managed effectively and substantial can be made with the right treatments methods.

In a recent study published in the British Medical Journal, authored by Kenneth Holroyd, the combination of preventive medication and behavioral techniques were shown to produce “significant” relief for 77 percent of the participants experiencing disabling migraines. Some of the behavioral changes include but are not limited to behavioral migraine management, reduction of caffeine and alcohol, engaging in physical activity, and learning how to cope with stress. The study used a 16-month time frame to measure the effectiveness of the combination of treatments, to ensure it keeps working over time. Basic migraine symptoms recognition training, progressive relaxtion skills, cognitive-behavioral stress management, and biofeedback training were all part of the behavioral training, fused with beta blocking medication.

"Relentless, individualized fine-tuning of the acute therapy improves outcomes," associate professor of neurology Gary Cordingley said. "Supplemental treatment combining preventive medication and behavioral management raises that improvement to a still-higher level."

Experts recommend keeping a diary to record potential triggers so patients can continually learn how to avoid them. With pharmaceutical treatments and a matriculated plan to implement behavioral techniques, migraine sufferers may be able to achieve a level of comfort and control over their migraine symptoms. 


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