Why Are Men Less Likely to Get Migraines?

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Men are three times less likely to experience migraines than women. Research suggests that even when they do have migraine attacks, the pain is less severe than it typically is in women.

There are many reasons why men are less likely to suffer from migraines, including differences in genetics, migraine triggers, and levels of estrogen in the body.

This article will discuss why, and how, migraines are different in men than in women.

man with migraine

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Estrogen

The hormone estrogen is closely linked to migraines. There are three types of estrogen:

  • Estradiol (the most common type)
  • Estriol (the main estrogen hormone found in pregnancy)
  • Estrone (the estrogen that’s made in the body following menopause)

Estrogen is found in male and female bodies. Some research has indicated that men who often experience migraines have higher levels of estradiol in their bodies than men who do not get migraine attacks.

Studies have shown that fluctuating levels of estrogen, which are common during the menstrual cycle and in pregnancy, can bring on migraine attacks.

It's not clear why the fluctuation of estrogen leads to a migraine attack. Some research suggests that it might be related to the impact that estrogen has on levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin, which regulates pain and mood.

Estrogen can also alter blood pressure and blood vessels—two factors that are associated with migraine attacks.  

While the number of reported migraines in men is low, the prevalence of migraine attacks in men might in fact be higher. Studies suggest that men are less likely than women to consult a doctor about their migraines, which means more men might be experiencing them than statistics show.

Genetics

Genetics play a crucial role in the development of migraines. Studies have shown that you are twice as likely to get migraines if you have a first-degree relative (someone who shares roughly 50% of their genes with you) who has migraines.

Triggers

Many migraine triggers may affect men differently than they do women. One major trigger for male migraines is physical exertion. However, physical exertion is different for everyone depending on their fitness level.

For some men, intense exercise is a trigger. For others, walking up the stairs is enough to bring on a migraine.

A 2021 study found that the most common self-reported migraine triggers in men were stress, bright lights, and sleep deprivation.

There are also other lifestyle factors than can be migraine triggers for men, including:

  • High levels of stress
  • A lack of sleep
  • Dehydration
  • Not eating enough
  • Low blood sugar, or hypoglycemia
  • Certain foods and drinks that have been known to cause migraines (such as chocolate, wine, foods with nitrates, and aged cheese)
  • Bright lights 

When to See a Doctor

There are some symptoms that can accompany a headache that suggest the cause is something more serious than a migraine. If you have a headache and any of these symptoms, you should seek immediate medical attention:

  • Stiff neck
  • High fever
  • Double vision
  • Seizures
  • Confusion
  • Weak muscles
  • Changes in your speech

Prevention

The best way to prevent a migraine attack is to avoid triggers, but that can be difficult if you do not know what yours are. You can determine the things that cause you to have a migraine attack by monitoring your symptoms and lifestyle habits daily. Once you figure out what your triggers are, you can work on avoiding them.

Some general tips for preventing a migraine in men include:

  • Getting regular exercise without overexerting yourself
  • Staying hydrated
  • Eating a nutritious diet and avoiding foods that are triggers
  • Getting enough sleep
  • Practicing stress management

If you have migraine attacks that are frequent and chronic, there are some preventive medications that your doctor might prescribe to help prevent attacks. Some medications that are often used as preventive measures include:

  • Anti-seizure medications
  • Antidepressants
  • Beta-blockers (which are used to help reduce high blood pressure)
  • Calcium channel antagonists (which are used to lower blood pressure)
  • Serotonin antagonists (which hinder serotonin reuptake in the brain and increase serotonin levels)
  • Botulinum neurotoxins (which are poisons produced by a type of bacteria and can help paralyze the nerves that lead to migraine attacks)

These medications are designed to keep a migraine from happening. In the event that a migraine does occur, treatment for the pain is often needed. 

Treatment

Migraine treatment for men is similar to the treatment for women. Treatments used for migraines include:

  • NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs)
  • Ergot alkaloids (drugs that cause smooth muscle contractions to help soothe headaches and migraines)
  • Triptans (drugs that work like serotonin in the brain to help hinder the overaction of pain nerves)
  • Acetaminophen
  • cGRP inhibitors (a class of medications that are the first targeted migraine therapy)

Research has shown that men are more likely to use over-the-counter (OTC) medications such as acetaminophen and ibuprofen to treat migraine symptoms, while women are more likely to use prescription medications.

Aspirin can also be used to help treat migraine attacks in men. Aspirin is especially helpful for men because they have an increased risk of heart disease. Some research suggests that aspirin can act as a preventive measure against heart attack or stroke, which is why using it to treat migraines in men might be beneficial.  

Summary

Research suggests that men are three times less likely to experience migraines than women, but those numbers might not be accurate, as men are also less likely than women to see a doctor for a migraine.

There are many reasons that men experience migraines less often than women do—from differences in genetics to lifestyle factors like intense exercise.

Finding what works for you can be a trial-and-error process, but once you do, it will be much easier to cope with migraines.

The best way to prevent migraines is to identify and keep track of your triggers. In some cases, preventive medications can help manage the frequency of your attacks. Treatment for migraines can involve both prescription and OTC pain medications.

A Word From Verywell

Migraines are different for everyone. If you experience them, the first step is to determine what your triggers are. One way you can do that is by keeping track of lifestyle factors that precede your migraine attacks in a notebook. In time, it will help you understand the mechanisms behind your migraines.

Preventing and treating your migraines becomes much easier once you know what your triggers are. The debilitating pain of a migraine can be difficult to cope with, but there are many ways to ensure that you have less frequent attacks.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What does a migraine feel like?

    A migraine is typically described as a severe throbbing or pulsing pain in the head. It is more common for the pain to occur on one side of the head, but it can occur on both sides. The pain is often accompanied by other symptoms, such as sensitivity to light and sound, nausea, and vomiting.

  • What is the difference between a migraine and a headache?

    The pain felt with a headache can be in the head, face, or upper neck, while migraine pain is typically localized to one side of the head. The causes are also often different; however, some factors, such as being dehydrated, can trigger both a migraine or a headache.

  • What is a migraine aura?

    A migraine aura occurs prior to the onset of a migraine or during a migraine attack. It comes with temporary disturbances that can affect your vision, speech, balance, and hearing. A migraine aura typically comes on roughly an hour before the migraine attack.

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