Connection Between Headaches and Hormones

How Changes in Hormone Levels May Trigger Headaches

How Your Hormones May be Affecting Your Headaches
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For some people, their headaches are linked to their hormones, meaning underlying health conditions that impact hormones in their body are the source or trigger for their headaches.

Thyroid Hormone and Headaches

People who have a low level of thyroid hormone are considered hypothyroid. Since the thyroid gland is involved in a number of metabolic processes in the body, symptoms of hypothyroidism are variable in number and severity but may include weight gain, fatigue, dry skin, and constipation.

In addition, people with hypothyroidism may also endure headaches that are related to their thyroid state. This headache is similar to a tension headache in that it feels like a band around the head and is generally not throbbing, like a migraine. A headache attributed to hypothyroidism is also persistent but resolves within two months after the thyroid levels are normalized. 

Estrogen and Headaches

Many women endure migraines triggered by a drop in estrogen just before they begin menstruating. This is called a menstrual migraine. Symptoms of a menstrual migraine resemble a non-menstrual migraine but are often more intense and less resistant to treatment.

For a woman who gets menstrual migraines frequently, her doctor may recommend taking a long-acting triptan starting a couple days prior to menstruation for a total of five to six days. This can help prevent a migraine attack from occurring in the first place. Combined estrogen progesterone birth control pills, especially continuous pills, may also help prevent menstrual migraines in certain women.

Stress Hormone and Headaches

Stress is a major headache trigger and can cause a person to develop a new headache disorder or worsen an already existent headache disorder. Stress can also trigger the transformation from episodic headaches to chronic headaches. While the exact ways in which stress affects a person's headache health is unclear, it's likely that the "stress hormone" cortisol plays a role.

Cortisol is a hormone released by the adrenal glands (small glands that sit upon your two kidneys) when a person experiences stress. Cortisol has a number of effects on the body, like increasing the heart rate and raising a person's blood sugar. It may also trigger headaches through a complex interaction with a person's nervous system.

Glucose, Insulin, and Headaches

A drop in glucose levels which can occur from not eating or taking too much insulin can trigger a hypoglycemia-induced migraine.

In addition, some people develop a headache when they stop eating, even if their glucose levels do not drop too low, and this is called a fasting headache. Interestingly, scientists do not think that a fasting headache is really from low glucose levels, but rather from some other process, like the stress in the body induced by fasting.

A fasting headache is generalized, meaning it's felt all over the head, and it's also typically non-throbbing, like a tension headache. The treatment for a fasting headache is eating, but it may still take up to 72 hours to resolve after consuming a meal.

There also appears to be a link between chronic migraines and insulin resistance, especially in overweight or obese women. Insulin resistance means that a person produces insulin, but it's not used appropriately to lower blood sugar levels, and it predisposes a person to developing type 2 diabetes mellitus.

The link between migraines and insulin resistance is unclear. It may be that people with insulin resistance tend to be obese, which increases inflammation in the body. This inflammation could then make a person more prone to migraine attacks—and research has found that overweight and obese women do have more frequent migraine attacks than women of a normal weight (but not necessarily longer or more severe migraines).

A Word From Verywell

If you think your headaches are linked to your hormones, please speak with your doctor. A good medical history and a few simple blood tests may help tease this out for you.

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