Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) and migraine are two conditions that can be impacted by hormonal fluctuations. They’re both more common in women. And they have several risk factors in common.
Despite these similarities, researchers have not found any clear connection between them.
Migraine is a neurological condition that causes severe headaches, often accompanied by other symptoms, like nausea and visual disturbances. Migraine attacks are severe episodes that last anywhere from a few hours to a few days.
PCOS is a hormonal imbalance that occurs in vagina owners whose bodies produce higher than normal levels of androgens. Androgens are the reproductive hormones responsible for masculine physical characteristics.
Although few researchers have explored the relationship between PCOS and migraine, many people living with migraine continue to wonder whether there’s more to the story.
Migraine and PCOS both have a genetic component, which means you could have inherited either condition from a biological parent. And both migraine and PCOS tend to develop during adolescence — although PCOS often goes unnoticed for years.
Migraine tends to get most severe during your 30s. They gradually decline as you get older and often improve with menopause. However,
Certain symptoms of PCOS can also improve with age. Many people with PCOS find that their periods become more regular the closer they get to menopause. However, the other symptoms of PCOS typically remain.
The symptoms of migraine and PCOS can both be triggered by reproductive hormones.
Migraine is much more common in women. Researchers believe this is related to estrogen, one of the primary female reproductive hormones.
PCOS, which primarily affects women, is related to androgen levels. Androgens are a different type of reproductive hormone. Typically, males produce much higher levels of androgens than females.
Migraine and estrogen
Migraine attacks are often brought on by specific triggers. One of the most common migraine triggers is the fluctuation of estrogen. Estrogen levels fluctuate throughout your menstrual cycle, but they plummet to their lowest point right before your period starts.
According to the American Headache Society, around 2 out of 3 menstruating people with migraine regularly experience attacks around the time of their period. This can happen any time from 2 days prior to the start of your period to 3 days after.
Migraine attacks that sync up to your menstrual cycle are known as menstrual migraine. Some people only get migraine attacks around the time of their period. But more commonly, menstruation is only one of many migraine triggers.
PCOS and androgens
When people who menstruate produce too many of these hormones, it can affect their menstrual cycles and make getting pregnant more difficult. Some people have irregular periods and others stop getting their period completely.
Fluctuating androgen levels do not appear to trigger migraine episodes the same way fluctuating estrogen levels do.
The most common way to treat PCOS is with additional female reproductive hormones. Combination birth control pills that contain both progestin and estrogen are a popular choice.
Some people experience side effects when taking hormonal birth control pills.
Side effects can include:
- sore breasts
- early, late, or stopped periods
- spotting between periods
These symptoms typically go away after a few months. If they don’t, your doctor can prescribe a different type of hormonal birth control.
Although birth control pills can cause headaches, hormonal birth control methods are not typically associated with migraine. In fact, hormonal birth control is often used to treat menstrual migraine attacks.
Continuous cycle birth control methods help prevent the sudden drop in estrogen levels that occurs right before your period. Traditional birth control pills contain a week of placebos (sugar pills) that you take during your period. Continuous cycle methods skip these off days, which allows you to skip your period.
The symptoms of PCOS and migraine can vary widely between individuals.
Symptoms of PCOS include:
- missed or irregular periods
- abnormal hair growth on the face and body
- difficulty getting pregnant
- weight gain
- hair loss, thinning, or male-pattern baldness
- cysts on the ovaries
Migraine attacks often take place in phases known as prodrome, headache, and postdrome. This means people can often feel a migraine attack coming on before it starts. It also means they may experience a “migraine hangover” after the attack has ended.
Some people also experience what’s known as a migraine aura. An aura is a phenomenon that happens before or during a migraine attack. These visual disturbances can look like flashing lights, zigzag lines, or bright shapes and patterns.
Other symptoms of a migraine attack include:
- severe pain on one or both sides of the head
- throbbing, aching, piercing pain
- nausea or vomiting
- sensitivity to light, sounds, and smells
- difficulty speaking
- dizziness or blurred vision
If you’re experiencing unusual symptoms, you should talk with your primary care doctor. Specialists who can help with migraines and PCOS include:
Medications like birth control aren’t the only way to treat PCOS and migraine. Lifestyle changes and certain natural treatments may also help you manage symptoms and reduce the risk of complications.
- eating a healthy, balanced diet
- identifying other migraine triggers
- trying acupuncture or massage
- cutting back on caffeine
- getting regular exercise
- getting enough sleep
- reducing stress
- practicing meditation
PCOS and migraine are conditions that can be connected to your menstrual cycle. If you suspect you have PCOS and migraine, talk with a doctor about treatment options that take both conditions into consideration.