Share on Pinterest
Photography by Aya Brackett

Many women have migraine. Migraine is more common in women than men, particularly for women in their reproductive years.

The type of birth control you use can also affect the frequency and severity of your migraine episodes.

There are many types of birth control available. Some include hormones and others don’t.

Selecting a birth control method is a personal decision, one that should take into account not only your health but your lifestyle and reproductive needs too.

Hormonal birth control

Many women use some type of hormonal contraception. These methods may affect your migraine for better or for worse, since each person reacts to this type of birth control differently.

Hormonal contraceptive methods include:

  • oral contraceptives (commonly called the birth control pill or “the pill”)
  • transdermal patches
  • implants
  • intrauterine devices (IUDs)
  • shots
  • vaginal rings

Hormonal birth control is widely used, but it does have some risks and can also cause side effects, which may affect migraine.

The types and amounts of hormones these contraceptives have can vary. For example, many include a combination of hormones, such as estrogen and progestin. Others use only progestin.

Some people may experience headaches and migraine episodes from hormonal birth control along with other side effects. There’s also an increased risk for blood clots and stroke in people who use birth control containing estrogen.

This may present a problem for people who have migraine with aura, since it’s associated with an elevated risk of ischemic stroke.

On the flip side, hormonal birth control may reduce migraine episodes because it controls your hormone levels. This may be most beneficial to those who experience menstrual migraine.

Nonhormonal birth control

There are other types of birth control that don’t involve hormones. These nonhormonal birth control methods aren’t linked to migraine symptoms or relief. These include:

  • surgical procedures, like vasectomies for men and tubal ligation for women
  • copper intrauterine devices (IUDs), like Paragard
  • barrier methods, like condoms, diaphragms, and sponges
  • natural rhythm methods, like charting your cycle to know when you’re likely to be most and least fertile

In general, surgical procedures eliminate the possibility of pregnancy. Barrier methods and natural rhythm methods may not prevent pregnancy as effectively as hormonal birth control or surgical options.

You may experience migraine episodes around your period. They can occur because your hormone levels drop leading up to your menstrual cycle.

A migraine episode may start a few days before your period and then continue a few days into it. These episodes are considered menstrual migraine if they occur in two-thirds or more of your menstrual cycles and not at other times during the month.

Your doctor may suggest hormonal birth control to manage menstrual migraine. This may include a supplement that contains extra estrogen to take in the days surrounding your period, or a form of hormonal birth control that delivers a continuous level of hormones throughout your cycle.

Many birth control pills contain no hormones during the week of your period.

The symptoms of migraine with aura are more severe than those for migraine without aura. They can affect the type of birth control you use.

Migraine with aura is characterized by symptoms like nausea and visual changes before and during the migraine episode. These episodes can also cause disturbances in your sensations and speech.

This type of migraine can increase your risk of stroke, as can many types of hormonal birth control containing estrogen.

The World Health Organization discourages the use of hormonal birth control containing estrogen for people who have migraine with aura because of the increased risk of stroke.

Not all health organizations agree with this. It’s important to discuss the risks of hormonal birth control and migraine with aura with your doctor. Your doctor may also consider factors like age, tobacco use, and health history.

If you have migraine with aura, your doctor may recommend a progestin-only birth control method. It doesn’t carry the same risks as birth control methods containing a combination of hormones.

Progestin-only birth control is available in pill and injectable form as well as IUDs and implants.

The symptoms of migraine without aura include vomiting, nausea, and light sensitivity, but you won’t experience visual or sensory disruptions before the onset of an episode.

There are fewer risks for people using birth control with a combination of hormones if you have migraine without aura. This is because migraine without aura isn’t associated with the same increased risk of stroke.

Hormonal birth control pills may cause migraine episodes in the week leading up to your period. This is because these pills contain fewer hormones or no hormones at all at that point in the cycle.

You can overcome these migraine episodes in several ways:

  • You may find that your migraine episodes decrease the longer you take the pill.
  • You may be able to switch to a pill that delivers a continuous level of hormones throughout your cycle.
  • You may be able to eliminate the week of pills without hormones and take birth control pills that contain hormones continuously.

Talk with your doctor about these options if birth control seems to trigger your migraine episodes.

Birth control in any form carries risks. Some birth control methods are less effective than others and can result in pregnancy. Also, not all birth control prevents sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

In addition to being a possible trigger for migraine episodes, hormonal birth control may have certain side effects, including:

  • headaches
  • irregular bleeding
  • changes in mood
  • soreness in the breasts
  • weight gain
  • nausea
  • blood clots
  • high blood pressure
  • stroke
  • heart attack

Discuss the risks of birth control with your doctor.

The type of birth control you choose to use may affect your migraine episodes.

If you have migraine with aura, progestin-only pills or nonhormonal birth control may be best. You may have more birth control options if you experience migraine without aura or menstrual migraine.

Discuss your migraine symptoms, along with other health and lifestyle factors, with your doctor when choosing birth control.