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By Karyn Odway
An estimated 36 million Americans suffer from migraines, and most of them are women. Headaches are three times more common in women than men (18% in women vs 6% in men), which means women more than men could experience the debilitating effects of a headache. But new treatments and techniques are bringing hope in the management of migraines.
A migraine is defined by two of the following four symptoms: pain typically on one side of your head, throbbing pain, moderate to severe pain and worsening with movement plus symptoms of nausea or vomiting and/or sensitivity to light and sound.
“Treatment of migraines can be divided into four categories although we often need to combine them to get control,” says Neurologist Susan Rubin, MD, the Ruth Cain Ruggles Chair of the Department of Neurology at NorthShore and Co-Chair of NorthShore Neurological Institute.
The Role of Hormones
The frequency of migraines might change over time – for better or worse.
“Headaches often start during puberty when a girl starts menstruating and then continues throughout her life. Some women are particularly susceptible to headaches around their menstrual cycle and at ovulation,” Dr. Rubin said. “Those women often do better during pregnancy and improve at menopause. But that is not the only trigger for migraines and women who have many or different triggers may not notice a hormonal pattern. They may do worse during pregnancy, especially if they stopped medication for the pregnancy, or continue to have migraines postmenopausal.”
Dr. Rubin suggests the following when it comes to using medications to treat migraines over a woman’s lifetime.
“We don’t know why women have more headaches, but cycling hormones clearly play a role,” Dr. Rubin adds; “however, by following the above principles of migraine management, you don’t have to suffer from them.”
To learn more about headache management, visit the NorthShore Neurological Institute's headache program.