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February 2006 Issue

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Migraines and PMS - A 'Double Whammy'

By Dama Ewbank
Published February 2006

Migraine headache and premenstrual syndrome (PMS) often occur in women at the same time as their menstrual cycle. Now researchers believe that migraine headache might actually make PMS symptoms worse.

Vincent Martin, MD, a professor in the internal medicine department, led a study that found PMS symptoms were more severe when patients were experiencing migraine headaches. The research appears in the January 2006 issue of Headache.

"We believe the pain of migraine headache worsens the perception of common PMS symptoms such as bloating, abdominal cramping, anxiety, irritability and depression. In a way, it is like a 'double whammy,'" Dr. Martin says.

The researchers followed 21 menstruating women with migraine headache and asked them to record the severity of migraine and PMS symptoms in a daily diary for three months. They found that PMS symptoms were more severe when patients were experiencing migraine headaches. This association occurred not just around the menstrual period, but throughout all phases of the menstrual cycle.

The researchers then gave each woman a medication that turned off the actions of the ovaries--inducing "artificial menopause." Even when hormonal fluctuations were eliminated, the women still suffered worsened PMS symptoms when experiencing migraine headache.

"PMS symptoms are highly dependant on cyclic hormonal fluctuations encountered during the menstrual cycle," says Dr. Martin. "Therefore, the fact that the association remained even after an 'artificial menopause' was induced would suggest that migraine headaches were more likely to worsen PMS symptoms than vice versa."

Migraine headaches that are triggered by hormonal changes at the time of menstruation have been called "menstrual migraine."

"Both migraine headache and PMS have negative effects on the quality of life of countless women," says Dr. Martin. "Up to 70 percent of women with menstrual migraine suffer from PMS. Our study demonstrates that migraine and PMS symptoms may not occur independently, but may influence one another."

Dr. Martin says it's important to contact your health-care provider if you suffer from migraine headache or severe PMS symptoms, as they may be signs of a more serious problem, but adds there are some things you can do on your own to alleviate the symptoms of migraine headache.

  • Get plenty of sleep--at least eight hours

  • Minimize stress through exercise and relaxation techniques

  • Avoid or reduce consumption of caffeine

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