Migraine and Women’s Health: Your Questions Answered

Our panel of experts answer your questions and discuss how migraine can affect women throughout different stages of their lives

On Jan. 6, 2022, the American Migraine Foundation’s Vice Chair Dr. Christine Lay, Dr. Addie Peretz and Valerie Lawler, NP, participated in our “Migraine and Women’s Health: Your Questions Answered” webinar. To help provide direct guidance, the panel took turns presenting and answering questions submitted by community members.

Women have unique challenges when it comes to managing migraine, such as changes in hormones as well as pregnancy and menopause. With so many different factors contributing to migraine pain, getting answers can be intimidating or even seem impossible. No matter what stage of life you are in, talking with your doctor about your migraine is the best way to make an effective plan of action.

Migraine and Women

Migraine does not discriminate and can affect people of any gender, age or background. However, migraine affects women three times more often than men. Women also experience longer attacks that are more disabling. “Men do experience migraine, but we know that it’s more common in women,” says Dr. Peretz. “In fact, the increased prevalence of migraine starts at menarche [a woman’s first period], and it continues throughout a woman’s lifespan.”

Nurse Lawler says most women will remember their migraine starting in their teen years, after their first period. She says girls can also experience migraine in their childhood but that it becomes much more common after childhood.  Unfortunately, migraine tends to peak at the height of a woman’s life, right when she may be focusing on a career or starting a family.

Migraine and Pregnancy

Women who want to get pregnant often worry about how their migraine could be impacted by pregnancy and if they will be able to continue with their current treatment. “I think it’s a very common concern,” says Dr. Lay. “Everyone understands that when you’re pregnant, the number one thing you want to do is avoid medication.” So, how do those with disabling migraine function during pregnancy?

The good news is that most women, particularly women who have migraine during their period without aura, do very well in pregnancy. Dr. Lay says that almost 80% of women see improvement by the second trimester, but there could be a few weeks where they need to scale back on their responsibilities at work and home. “Overall, we tell our patients that there is good news, and we can really work with individuals to help them be prepared for pregnancy so their migraine does improve,” says Dr. Lay.

Planning for Pregnancy

For women hoping to conceive in the near future, understanding treatment options can bring peace of mind. Reach out to your doctor to schedule a family planning appointment even up to six months prior to start trying. “You really want to take the time to talk about what medications you’re currently on and which ones you can continue into your pregnancy,” says Dr. Peretz. “This is also a great time to start focusing on those lifestyle factors.”

Dr. Peretz says she recommends women “limit the use of rescue medications [medicine that quickly relieves symptoms] as much as possible” because it is important to let the baby develop as naturally and safely as possible. If you’re frequently using rescue medications, it’s best to talk to your doctor to learn how to start reducing them. Additionally, there are other medications that might need to be stopped prior to pregnancy because of how they can affect a baby’s development.

Lifestyle Changes

Lifestyle factors play a very important role in migraine management. “Some of the things that we teach our patients, with respect to lifestyle, are things like making sure that they eat a healthy, balanced diet—three meals a day,” says Nurse Lawler. Having healthy snacks in between meals and drinking plenty of water to keep your brain hydrated is also important.

Sleep is another important factor in migraine management. “Not enough sleep or too much sleep can be a potential headache trigger. Keeping a consistent sleep schedule and getting a good night’s sleep is key,” says Nurse Lawler. “When we don’t sleep well, we don’t feel well the next day, and certainly our brain responds by producing migraine and headaches.”

Stress management also plays a big role in managing migraine and can be one of the tougher lifestyle challenges to control. Getting ahead of stress by using relaxation techniques and meditation can be a great way to help offset the negative effects of stress.

The American Migraine Foundation regularly hosts educational webinars and roundtables with migraine experts and advocates. Follow us on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or LinkedIn to stay up to date on all of our upcoming events.

The American Migraine Foundation is committed to improving the lives of those living with this debilitating disease. For more of the latest news and information on migraine, visit the AMF Resource Library. For help finding a healthcare provider, check out our Find a Doctor tool. Together, we are as relentless as migraine.

Reviewed for accuracy by the American Migraine Foundation’s subject matter experts, headache specialists and medical advisers with deep knowledge and training in headache medicine. Click here to read about our editorial board members.