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Migraine Attacks Increase With Menopause, Study Finds

I just arrived in Los Angeles for the American Headache Society’s annual scientific meeting. It’s been a rough month, so I’m not sure how much of the conference I’ll get to attend, but I’m eager for whatever I’ll get to learn. Tons of research will be presented at the meeting, but one study in particular is more frightening than exciting:

A study of 3,606 women between the ages of 35 and 65 found that women who were in the transition to menopause or were already in menopause had more frequent migraine attacks than women who hadn’t begun menopause. In the study, about a third of the women hadn’t yet hit menopause (premenopausal), a third were in the transition to menopause (peri-menopausal) and a third had already entered menopause.

Only 8% of premenopausal women had 10 or more migraine attacks per month. Of women who were in the transition to menopause or already in menopause, 12% had 10 or more attacks a month. Researchers concluded that the peri-menopausal and menopausal women were 50% to 60% more likely to have frequent migraine attacks than pre-menopausal women.

Hormonal changes, particularly the drop in estrogen in peri-menopause and menopause, are thought to be responsible for this disparity.

I’d bet at least 99% of women have had a health care provider tell them to expect a decrease in their migraine frequency menopause. Many of us have even been told the migraine attacks will stop completely. This research raises serious doubts about the migraine nirvana we may have thought awaited us.

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Spinal Headache Gone… Migraine in Full Force

The blood patch to treat the headache that followed my spinal tap required an emergency room visit, so I waited until it became absolutely necessary. It didn’t! I skipped it altogether and felt better on Sunday.

Then the hormones from the birth control pills I started Sunday morning kicked in and triggered a massive migraine. It eased off today and I’m enjoying the break. My migraines will probably be more frequent as my body adjusts to the hormones. I’m trying to be extra vigilant so I can use abortives as soon into the migraine as possible.

It has been a tough week, but I’m in good spirits. Since this last migraine let up, I’m using my migraine-free moments wisely. I’ve spent four hours organizing the basement, made cookies and cleaned the kitchen. Now I’m working and looking through the picture window at falling snow. I have a pretty good life.

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Lower Risk of Breast Cancer for Women With Migraine

Finally, some good news for migraineurs. Women with migraine had a 30 percent lower risk of breast cancer than those without, according to a recently released study. Hormonal changes, which commonly trigger migraine, are a potential link.

In particular, migraine history appeared to reduce the risk of the most common subtypes of breast cancer: those that are estrogen-receptor and/or progesterone-receptor positive. Such tumors have estrogen and/or progesterone receptors, or docking sites, on the surface of their cells, which makes them more responsive to hormone-blocking drugs than tumors that lack such receptors.

The biological mechanism behind the association between migraines and breast cancer is not fully known, but Li and colleagues suspect that it has to do with fluctuations in levels of circulating hormones.

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National Headache Awareness Week: Get a Head S.T.A.R.T. on Your Headaches

In recognition of the 15th annual National Headache Awareness Week, the National Headache Foundation (NHF) is announcing a series of events across the country in order to educate the public about types of headache and their impact on daily living, as well as stressing the importance of seeking an accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatments. This year’s National Headache Awareness Week takes place June 1-7, 2008. Nearly 21 million people were reached last year through this successful annual campaign.

“One of our primary goals during National Headache Awareness Week is to gain recognition of headache pain as a real and legitimate condition,” said Dr. Seymour Diamond, Executive Chairman of the National Headache Foundation. “Over 45 million Americans get chronic, recurring headaches. Of this number, nearly 30 million have migraine headaches.”

Activities taking place across the country this week include headache screenings, educational seminars led by expert physicians, menstrual migraine awareness events and a 5-part podcast series focusing on women’s headache issues, a radio news release and the launch of a non-profit NHF channel on YouTube.

This year, the NHF is encouraging sufferers to “Get a Head S.T.A.R.T. on Your Headaches,” offering five easy-to-remember strategies for effective headache management and treatment:

  • Seek diagnosis — Obtaining the correct diagnosis for your headache is the first step toward effective treatment.
  • Triggers — Identify and track your triggers (e.g., foods, stress, hormonal and weather changes) by keeping a headache diary and share this information with your healthcare provider.
  • Advocate — Be an advocate. Be informed. Be a participant in your headache care.
  • Resources — Utilize the National Headache Foundation as a resource. Visit www.headaches.org for the latest information about headache causes and treatments, or call 1-888-NHF-5552.
  • Treatment — Successful treatment may include medications and lifestyle changes. Work with your healthcare provider to find the right plan for you.

For the first time, this year’s campaign is drawing specific attention to menstrual migraines by designating Wednesday, June 4th as National Menstrual Migraine Awareness Day. In support of Menstrual Migraine Awareness Day efforts, the NHF will also be releasing new survey data from a recent poll of its website respondents suffering from menstrual migraine.

Additionally, the NHF is hosting a five-part podcast series specifically addressing women’s headache issues including Hormones & Headache, Contraception & Headaches, Pregnancy & Headache, Menopause & Headaches and Menstrual Migraine. Podcasts and expert questions and answers are available through links on the National Headache Awareness Week page.

This post is adapted from a National Headache Foundation press release. -Kerrie

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Oliver Sacks Answers New York Times Migraine Blog Readers’ Questions

Renowned writer and neurologist Oliver Sacks describes non-visual auras, correlations between migraine and memory loss, migraine’s connection to strange dreams and more in Answers to Reader Questions on the New York Times migraine blog. Inquiries and responses aren’t about medical advice, but less frequently discussed components of migraine.

Topics covered:

  • Non-visual auras (like hallucinating or distorting sounds or smells, tingling in limbs, etc.)
  • Hormone levels
  • Genetics
  • Emotional changes
  • Creativity and intelligence
  • Bizarre dreams
  • Memory loss

As always, his post contains thoughtful answers and colorful stories.