For some time headaches and migraines were considered psychologically based and were not thought to be a serious physical condition. Women, as a whole, are generally affected by headaches more often than men and it is possible that this partially explains why headaches have not always received the attention they deserve.
Some studies have suggested that women are more likely than men to be treated with ‘psychological drugs’ such as sedatives and anti-depressants for headaches and migraines. Women also have special needs and often respond differently to headache treatments. Their response is affected by hormones as well as the often stressful social pressures they face.
Hormones and Oral Contraceptives
Women may experience their first headache during their adolescent years, quite often in conjunction with their first menstrual cycle. The link between a woman’s hormones and headaches is a complex one and it is thought that changes in oestrogen levels will trigger headaches. A woman may find that she is more likely to experience a migraine during certain times in her cycle. Non-migraine headaches may also occur and when you add oral contraceptives into the equation, headache and migraine patterns may be further complicated.
Studies suggest that women who have previously experienced migraines may notice changes in their headaches after commencing oral contraceptives. They may find that migraines increase during the week that they don’t consume a contraceptive pill. Headaches can, however, also improve and you may find that your migraines actually decrease in severity and frequency. If you do find that your migraines are worse, it is not recommended that you stop oral contraception without seeing your doctor first. He or she may be able to suggest a different oral contraceptive pill or a prescription migraine medication to be used in addition to your birth control.
Not all headaches occurring around the time of menstruation are migraines. Menstrual headaches are those that tend to consistently strike in the time just before, during or after menstruation. These occur when oestrogen levels are very low. Many women find that they regularly experience headaches on the first day of menstruation.
Other headaches can also be a symptom of pre-menstrual syndrome (PMS) and most women will find that these particular headaches cease when menstruation ends for that month. It is also suggested that the increase in fluid retention that women experience prior to menstruation can cause muscles to ache and may trigger tension-type headaches.
Pressure in Personal Life
With most women working outside of the home, earning less than men and often being the primary caretaker in the family, it is not surprising that women experience more stress-related headaches and migraines than men. Single mothers usually face additional financial pressures that can leave them with severe tension headaches. Regular headaches then result in more stress that again, leads to more headaches.
Depression is also common in women and is thought to be associated with frequent headaches. It’s a difficult cycle to break and making the time to see your doctor and obtain treatment can really be a challenge. It’s important to realize that as a woman, you’re not alone in your struggles to find time for healthcare and there is treatment available.
Looking After Yourself
Women are more likely than men to seek out alternative treatments such as yoga, acupuncture and breathing exercises. Although many of these treatments are still based on anecdotal evidence, the fact that women are investigating alternate ways to handle their pain is a positive step and shows that they are trying to take control of their health. Seeing your doctor is still important but don’t forget to research non-prescription ways of tackling your headache pain.
Stress reduction comes in many forms and you may wish to try a recognised alternative therapy or you may simply find more personal ways to relieve tension, such as reading a good book, socialising with friends or taking a relaxing bath. Be creative and look for ways to cope with stress; even just taking a simple and quiet walk outside can have benefits for stress reduction and headaches. Taking time out to address your headaches as well as receive medical treatment will leave you stronger and better able to handle your daily problems.