Consider the connection

Anyone who’s had a migraine or cluster headache knows how painful and debilitating they can be. Have you ever wondered what’s behind the blinding pain and other symptoms? One culprit might be your hormones.

In women, a clear connection exists between hormones and headaches. The female hormones estrogen and progesterone fluctuate around the time of menstruation. These fluctuations can trigger migraine headaches.

On the other hand, a rise in female hormones during pregnancy can briefly relieve migraines. Also, many women stop getting migraines entirely once they go through menopause.

In men, the hormone-migraine connection isn’t as clear. But some evidence suggests that low testosterone (low T) levels might trigger migraines in men. More research is needed to learn if testosterone therapy can help relieve headaches.

Hormones are chemicals that direct a variety of functions in your body. For example, different hormones determine how your body does the following:

  • grows
  • breaks down food for energy
  • becomes sexually mature

Testosterone is the hormone that drives the development of the male reproductive system. It’s responsible for many of the changes boys go through in puberty. Testosterone produces typical male characteristics, such as a deep voice, facial hair, and large muscles. It’s also key for the production of sperm, and the maintenance of libido in fully grown men.

Women also produce small amounts of testosterone. In women, testosterone plays a crucial role in maintaining their sex drive. It’s also important for good muscle and bone strength.

Testosterone levels typically decline in both men and women, as they get older. Some health conditions can also cause low T and lower levels of other hormones.

Studies suggest there may be a link between low T and headaches in men. There’s also some evidence to support the use of testosterone replacement therapy for treating headaches.

Many previous studies have found a potential connection between cluster headaches and low T in men.

A more recent study published in the journal Maturitas looked at the effect of testosterone on migraine headaches in a small group of pre- and postmenopausal women. The researchers found that implanting small testosterone pellets under the skin helped to relieve migraines in both groups of women.

More research is needed to test these findings to learn if testosterone therapy is a safe and effective treatment for some types of headaches. It’s possible that testosterone might help prevent or relieve headaches by:

  • stopping cortical spreading depression (CSD), a disruption of electrical activity in your brain that may cause migraines
  • increasing levels of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that carries messages from one part of your brain to another
  • widening blood vessels in your brain, which can help improve blood flow
  • reducing swelling in your brain

Testosterone therapy is still an unproven way to treat headaches. It’s not generally recommended for that purpose. It can cause a variety of side effects in both men and women.

Possible side effects of testosterone therapy in men include:

  • blood clots in your veins
  • enlargement of your breasts
  • enlargement of your prostate
  • shrinking of your testicles
  • lowered sperm production
  • oily skin and acne
  • sleep apnea

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) also warns that testosterone therapy might increase your risk of heart attack, stroke, and death.

Possible side effects of testosterone therapy in women include:

  • deeper voice
  • hair growth on your face and body
  • male-pattern hair loss
  • oily skin and acne

Before you consider an experimental treatment for headaches, such as testosterone therapy, talk to your doctor. They can help you understand the potential benefits and risks of different treatment options. They will likely prescribe other treatments to help relieve your symptoms.

For example, your doctor may recommend or prescribe:

  • nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as aspirin or ibuprofen
  • triptans, a class of medications used to treat migraines and cluster headaches
  • tricyclic antidepressants, which are sometimes used to treat migraines
  • drugs for high blood pressure, such as beta-blockers or calcium channel blockers
  • meditation, massage, or other complementary therapies

You may need to try several different treatments before you find one that works for you.