menstrual migraines

Menstrual Migraines and Other Monthly Misfortune

I can’t say that I have ever found my periods anything less than inconvenient. I wasn’t early to start and so was quite excited when at 13, my first one eventually came. It was heavy and lasted for 9 days and I realised then that my mum had been right when she had said that I should just enjoy not having started. “They don’t call it the curse for nothing,” she said as I asked for another pack of sanitary towels because it still hadn’t stopped. I knew from the other girls that mine was going on longer than most, but I also knew that everyone was different and so I accepted the way that I was. I experienced my first migraine at age 11, so some time before, and at that point I had not connected the two. It was much later that I recognised the hormonal link and realised that some of the debilitating headaches I suffered were actually menstrual migraines.

Content Warning: This post contains experiences with pain, blood and humiliation, but not of the erotic kind.

My periods continued to be long and heavy, causing me even then to plan around them. When it got to the point that they came for two weeks every three weeks I was a bit fed up with my lot. It sort of came to a head one night when, two days into my period, I woke in the night to find that I had leaked through my night-clothes and underwear and onto the bed sheets. I went to the bathroom to sort myself out and was pretty panicked when I discovered a large clot. I know now that this can be something that happens but I was only about 14 and it was pretty scary. I woke my mum and was not reassured by the way she looked. She tried to make me feel better but she put the pad, complete with clot, into a sandwich bag. I got myself cleaned up and went back to bed but I heard her tell my dad that something was wrong and that a clot the size of the palm of your hand wasn’t a normal.

She called the Doctor the next day and me, mum and the clot went for our appointment. The Doctor explained that I might be anaemic which would mean that my body was producing too much blood in order to try to get the haemoglobin it needed in order to work properly. I don’t think mum was convinced but she agreed the iron might be a good thing as I did look pale. There wasn’t really much of a positive in terms of a change to the length and heaviness of my period, but my poo turned black so I didn’t really like the taking tablets. I was monitored for about a year, dutifully keeping a record of times and dates and then referred to the gynaecology department. The long waiting time for my appointment was disappointing considering the result: A pretty humiliating and slightly disturbing experience for me and the recommendation that I go on the pill from them.

I don’t know if I had some sort of weird resistance to the pill but the first one meant I didn’t stop bleeding at all. I went back to the doctor, and after two cycles they stopped the pill and gave me something else. I was told to take a break and then try a different one. I think I lasted about three months on the third one before my dad said that I was moody and irrational and he wouldn’t continue to teach me to drive until ‘the stuff was out of my system’. I passed my driving test and went back to the doctor who concluded that I should prepare myself for the fact that I was likely to have heavy periods for the entirety of my menstrual career. I laughed internally at the expression and noted his caveat that there was a small possibility that things could reset themselves after childbirth. Drastic measures I thought.

My mum was never one to really make a fuss about health concerns and I suppose I learnt from her that it was best just to get on with it. Which is what I did. Planning my wardrobe options around my cycle is something I have plenty of experience of and something I long since realised was part of my life. Being aware that my sanitary protection has let me down once again, despite doubling up and frequent changes is nothing new to me. Embarrassing moments when I am unable to hide the fact that I have bled out all over my clothes are ones that I just have to deal with. And the lack of control over a flow which, without warning, can propel a clot from my body which lands with a soft thud, creating a spatter pattern worthy of a murder scene, is just part and parcel of my cycle.

On top of the embarrassment and inconvenience of my period, there is also the build up to deal with. I know that some women can feel bloated prior to a period, but I swear sometimes I must look at least 5 months pregnant. My belly swells, my boobs swell, and my weight can fluctuate by half a stone in a before and after comparison. None of this does much to make me feel attractive but I have just grown used to it. I remember saying to HL one time that at least all these physical symptoms meant that I wasn’t affected by the emotional stuff and he raised an eyebrow and proceeded to say, “What? You mean your psycho-bitch week?” I asked sheepishly if I was really that bad and he said, “Well lets just say that I plan for it and try to make allowances for you.”

So all of this is workable, but the one thing that has really floored me is the migraines. I know that migraine affects each person slightly differently and it can be difficult to tell what is a headache and what is more. Not all of my migraines are the same. They all share the same crushing pain which feels like someone is stabbing me, usually through the eye, but the centre can also be focussed from other parts of my head. I will often get an aura (visual disturbance) which means that parts of my vision are lost. This makes functioning really challenging and dangerous at points. The migraine can also affect my speech and I suffer a loss in my ability to select words and articulate. My thinking is clouded and there is constant nausea which arises from the level of pain. The length of the migraine will vary and there will often be a feeling of reduced ability the day after it.

Now I can’t attribute all migraines to my hormones (some are stress induced) but there will be one each month which arrives like clockwork. This has worsened significantly as I approach the menopause and although not considered peri-menopausal yet (my periods rage on with alarming regularity and fervour) I have noticed night sweats and other hormonal changes which would indicate that I am drawing closer. There have been other hormonal patterns over the years and there was a definite increase in the number of migraines I had during pregnancy. The menstrual migraines debilitate me. They will come at the onset of my period and will last 3-5 days with no let-up. Nothing has been able to touch them and it was only when I went to the doctor as I felt that I couldn’t work through it that I realised there were things I could take that might help.

Prior to this I had tried taking regular pain medication but that seemed to do nothing. I had read up and researched the sort of foods that could prevent a hormone crash or a hormone surge and had created some weird recipes to try to eat my way out of it. I cut out sugar and caffeine and alcohol. I set a regular bed time and made sure that I went to sleep at the same time each night, but right on cue, I would approach the day of my period and the migraine would come. I even tried asking HL to hurt me with impact play in the hope for an hour’s relief from the crushing pain. I think it was the fact that I went to bed with it and woke up with it the next day for consecutive days that really ground me down. It drove me to feel despair and HL sent me to seek help. I asked for a blood test to determine my hormone level as I thought that there might be an imbalance causing it, but apparently this is not something they can do.

A trial and error approach with various drugs led me to Sumatriptan which takes the edge off and hides the migraine enough that I can function. I feel a bit spaced out and wouldn’t risk driving, but I can keep going and muddle through the day. I am aware that the migraine is bleeding on in the background but the stabbing pain is dulled to an ache; this means that I can stop clutching my head and digging my nails into my temples, and actually hold a conversation. Of all the ails which have blighted my menstrual career, the hormonal migraine is the one that has really pissed me off. It has not been something I can plan for or overlook or work around in the way that the other symptoms have, and that has annoyed me somehow. It confuses me why my body can’t do something natural without seeming to work against itself in a very uncoordinated approach.

I know that possibly my acceptance of these symptoms may be something I should have challenged over the years and I think I will take a different view with menopausal matters. My mum was of the opinion that she should work through it without medication and didn’t ask for treatment like her friends. There was too little known, she said, about the effect of the hormones and she could put up with the symptoms and let her body do the rest. Now she has osteoporosis, she regrets that decision so I think I will do as HL says and get “patched right up” if that is what is offered. I am hoping that the menstrual migraines pass, along with the other monthly misfortune but I have learnt from my earlier mistakes and won’t be wishing myself on to the next stage this time.


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  1. So if you’ve been told that getting your hormone levels checked is “not something they can do,” I just want to say that is complete and utter bullshit. I have PCOS and get my hormone levels checked yearly (estrogen, progesterone, testosterone). How much of each your body is producing has a huge impact on your cycle, and your cycle has a huge impact on your head.

    Migraine management is a thing for me too, and it’s heavily-enough impacted by my wonky cycle to have had me resorting to continual-cycle birth control (I.e., I do not take the placebo on week 4 like a “normal person,” but just start the next pack instead, so I don’t bleed at all) to handle the headaches.

    I’ve also made adjustments in what/how I eat, and I take a preventative med called nortriptyline, which works wonders.

    I’m happy to discuss this further with you if you have questions. I also wrote a post once about pain management that you may (or may not) find helpful:

  2. Have they ever checked to see of you have fibroids? I did and there is a family history. As I was done having children, I had a hysterectomy at 38. They only took my uterus, leaving my ovaries and cervix. It might pay to have it checked out. I am 54 now and just starting menopause. It also could be polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) That also can cause heavy periods and migraines. I hope you can find relief soon!

    • Thank you. I haven’t been checked for these things so I will ask. I think that it might have been picked up beforehand as I was this way even before having children but perhaps it was there but undetected. I appreciate your comment and suggestions 🙂

  3. Mrs Fever is right. Your hormonal profile can definitely be tested.
    I used to suffer from migraines too. My causes were different but I did find medication that soothed my problems of not immediately then at least reasonably quickly. I read this post thinking you must be very unlucky to have so many merely adequate physicians in your circle. I would insist you try another few doctors if I were HL!

  4. I’ve just started to suffer with menstrual migraine in the past 4 months since quitting breastfeeding. My periods have always been bleed through everything heavy, and only got heavier with each successive child. I thought that was curse enough. But these migraines are something else. I can’t function properly. I was hoping it would be a temporary blip. It was all I could do to get the kids home in one piece. Ugh. Stabbing through the eye is the perfect description.

    • Oh poor you Muse. That does sound very similar. I am lucky really that my life is quite local so I don’t usually have to drive as that would really scupper things. I would get it checked out (she says!) 🙂

  5. Personally I think hormone levels should be checked along with general blood tests throughout our lives especially in preparation for menopause. I mean if they don’t know what our levels were like during our “younger” years how can they hope to match them later on? My bp has always been 65/105 as opposed to 80/120 so when at 9 months pregnant it was “normal” it was high for me and I had all the symptoms of high blood pressure. The same can be said for hormones. What’s normal for me may be different to your normal.

    Perhaps it’s worth asking to see a pain specialist or migraine specialist? There will be someone who has taken a special interest in them at a local hospital. Do a bit of googling and see if you can find some one XX

    Ps, some pre menopause herbal supplements have helped me with the night sweats (supermarket own brands) not expensive xx

    • Again, all very good advice worth following up. I think I will ask for the hormone tests again. What they said was that it wouldn’t show if there was an imbalance as it varies at different points in they cycle and a blood test was not something they would do. I am not sure why trial and error with medication is a better approach. I think they want me on beta blockers for life but I didn’t like them. 🙂

  6. My experience is so similar – I get migraines every month too. I found the mini-pill helped a bit. Really hope you get a better standard of care soon, don’t be afraid to ask for second opinions and tests! Xx

      • I’m only 18 months late reading this, but I echo what others have said. My hormone levels are checked annually (PCOS) and we have a pretty good idea of what my hormones are up to. My prolactin levels are massively elevated and have been since i was first tested at 17, which is ironic as I couldn’t breast feed either of my children!

        I hope you have found some resolution with this, and that your doctors are helping you figure this out at last. N x

        • Thank you. I have been using sumatriptan and that seems to work to treat although it doesn’t prevent them. I had my hormone levels checked and they came back ok so i don’t count as peri-menopausal yet 😊

  7. I have them every month, I got my hormones checked, to find out that my estrogen levels dip right before my period which results in a ridiculous migraine. I started taking estrogen 3 day before my period and during it and it helps. I am very familiar with the sumatriptans unfortunately. The first 15 minutes after you take them is hell. I don’t think I could drive in the first 30 min after taking it.
    Yes get a better doctor…I never heard that you can’t check your hormones. ?

    • What they said was that the hormone level would shift all the time so if there was a surge it wouldn’t show in a blood test. Sounds from all the comments here that is not an accurate picture though. Thank you ?

  8. Thank you for staring this. You comment on clot propulsion really made me giggle, it’s something I know well. I hadn’t even considered clots the size of your palm weren’t normal, I guess that’s all I’ve ever known so didn’t think it was odd! Definitely food for thought going forwards.

    • Maybe they are. Or maybe we are both weird? Surely not!!! Thank you for hosting the project. I haven’t read all the links yet but I am going to. It is a great collection to have together and the comments and feedback that I have had on mine so far have been really helpful and encouraging. ?

  9. Coming back to this post, I just want to mention that as if November 2020, I too am on sumatriptan. I had a debilitating round of migraine/rebound/tension/migraine headaches nonstop for about three weeks and at one point the entire left side of my face went numb from the pressure on the nerve. It works to take the edge off, as you say, but I cannot drive if it’s in my system so I usually wait to take it until way later than I should.

    Sumatriptan is a rescue medicine though, and on the whole I do better with preventative measures. So just as an FYI, I use Nortriptylene nightly as a preventative and it has cut my number of headache days per month in half. I’ve also added magnesium to my regimen, which I’m not sure how I feel about (is it doing anything?), but it’s a common recommendation for migraineurs so maybe it would help your situation(?) if you’re looking for something natural.

    • I can’t drive with sumatriptan either but have the advantage of being able to walk to work so it means that I am able to continue when I probably shouldn’t. I will ask about norteiptylene. I don’t know if we have that as they seem to want to go with beta blockers again as the only other alternative and I didn’t like the sluggishness of those.

      Interesting that you mention the magnesium. I did take that as I heard it helped with a lot of things. Like you I wasn’t quite sure though. I don’t think it changed my migraines but I think maybe my night sweats and sleep was improved so I may start again. I wonder if it is one of those things where you don’t notice the difference until you stop. Thank you for your thoughts. It is always helpful. 😊

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