If you’ve ever had a headache before your period, you’re not alone. They’re one of the most common symptoms of premenstrual syndrome (PMS).
Hormonal headaches, or headaches linked to menstruation, may result from changes in the levels of progesterone and estrogen in your body. These hormonal changes can have an impact on serotonin and other neurotransmitters in your brain, which can lead to headaches.
Read on to learn more about premenstrual headaches and how to treat them.
A headache before your period can be caused by many things, the two big ones being hormones and serotonin.
Premenstrual headaches are usually caused by the decrease in estrogen and progesterone that happens before your period begins.
While these hormonal changes happen in all people who menstruate, some are more sensitive to these changes than others.
Hormonal birth control pills can also cause premenstrual headaches in some people, though they improve symptoms for others.
Serotonin also plays a role in headaches. When there’s less serotonin in your brain, blood vessels can constrict, leading to headaches.
Before your period, the levels of serotonin in your brain may decrease as estrogen levels decrease, contributing to symptoms of PMS. If your serotonin levels decrease during your menstrual cycle, you’re more likely to experience headaches.
Anyone who menstruates can experience drops in estrogen and serotonin before their period. But some may be more prone to developing headaches in response to these drops.
You might be more likely to get headaches before your period if:
- you’re between the ages of
18 and 29
- you have a family history of hormonal headaches
- you’ve entered perimenopause (the years before menopause begins)
Getting headaches around the time you expect your period to start can sometimes be a symptom of pregnancy.
If you’re pregnant, you won’t get your usual period, but you might experience some light bleeding.
Other early signs of pregnancy include:
- mild cramps
- frequent urination
- mood swings
- increased sense of smell
- bloating and constipation
- unusual discharge
- darkened or larger nipples
- sore and swollen breasts
Keep in mind that if your headache is an early pregnancy symptom, you’ll likely have at least a few of these other symptoms as well.
If you get headaches before your period, several things may provide pain relief, including:
- Over-the-counter pain relievers. These include nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil), and aspirin.
- Cold compresses or ice packs. If you’re using ice or an ice pack, make sure to wrap it in a cloth before applying it to your head. Learn how to make your own compress.
- Relaxation techniques. One technique starts by beginning in one area of your body. Tense each muscle group while breathing in slowly, then relax the muscles as you breathe out.
- Acupuncture. Acupuncture is believed to help relieve pain by restoring imbalances and blocked energy in your body. There isn’t much evidence to back up its use as a treatment for premenstural headaches, but some people find that it offers relief.
- Biofeedback. This noninvasive approach aims to help you learn to control bodily functions and responses, including breathing, heart rate, and tension.
If you regularly get headaches before your period, it might be worth taking some preventive measures.
- Physical activity. Getting at least 30 minutes of aerobic exercise, three or four times a week, can help prevent headaches by releasing endorphins and increasing serotonin levels.
- Preventive medications. If you always get a headache around the same time, consider taking NSAIDs in the day or two leading up to this time.
- Dietary changes. Eating less sugar, salt, and fat, especially around the time your period is supposed to begin, may help prevent headaches. Low blood sugar can also contribute to headaches, so make sure you’re eating regular meals and snacks.
- Sleep. Try to prioritize getting seven to nine hours of sleep most nights. If you can, going to bed and getting up at the some time more often than not can also help to improve the quality of your sleep.
- Stress management. Stress often contributes to headaches. If you’re experiencing a lot of stress, consider trying meditation, yoga, or other methods of stress relief to relieve headache-causing tension.
It may also be worth asking your healthcare provider about hormonal birth control if you don’t currently use any. Even if you do already use hormonal birth control, there may be better options to deal with your headaches.
For example, if you take birth control pills and tend to get a headache around the time you start taking placebo pills, taking only active pills for several months at a time may help.
If nothing seems to be helping your premenstrual headaches or they become severe, you may be experiencing migraine attacks, not headaches.
Compared to a headache, migraine tends to cause more of a dull, aching pain. Eventually, the pain may start to throb or pulse. This pain often occurs on only one side of your head, but you might have pain on both sides or at your temples.
Usually, migraine attacks cause other symptoms as well, including:
- nausea and vomiting
- light sensitivity
- sound sensitivity
- an aura (light spots or flashes)
- blurry vision
- dizziness or lightheadedness
Migraine episodes typically last for a few hours, though a migraine attack can persist for up to three days.
If you think you might be experiencing migraine before your period, make an appointment with your healthcare provider.
Learn more about hormonal migraine attacks, including how they’re treated.
It’s not unusual to get a headache before your period starts. This is usually due to changes in levels of certain hormones and neurotransmitters.
There are several things you can try doing for relief, but if they don’t seem to be working, make an appointment with your healthcare provider. You might be dealing with migraine or require additional treatment.