In the US alone, 38 million people suffer from Migraine, a study states. But did you know that women are more prone to migraine than men? The statistics bring out shocking figures for the demographic disparity between migraine sufferers. A recent study tries to explain why this is the case.
Migraine is a predominantly female disorder. Women suffer from migraine three times more often than men. Compared to men, women also tend to have more painful and longer-lasting headaches that include other symptoms such as nausea and vomiting.
What Studies Found
There is a potential difference between the type and aetiology of migraine between males and females. Migraine is caused by the modulation of trigeminal ganglion* and its related nerves. But this modulation can occur due to sex hormones. The role of sex hormones in migraine is usually not taken into consideration.
A recent study revealed that sex hormones create ion channels* through which the stimuli affect the trigger zones. These ion channels can make the trigger zones either more or less vulnerable to the stimuli. For example – In the case of sex hormones, testosterone (males) acts against the migraines whereas prolactin (females) favours the migraine making it worse.
Ion Channels are membrane proteins capable of forming pores. They allow ions to pass through channel pores. You can learn more about them here.
Before puberty, boys have more tendency of suffering from migraine but as soon as puberty occurs, the effect of estrogen begins, and women become more prone to migraine attacks.
It has been found that migraine is more commonly found in menstruating women as a result of higher level of estrogen. Any menstruation related changes lead to a change in estrogen level which in turn sensitizes the trigeminal nerve and hence stimulates the trigger zones. Thus, after puberty, women are always at a higher risk of suffering from migraine because of the fluctuation of estrogen levels during their lifetime – menstruation, pregnancy and menopause.
Compared to all other phases of the menstrual cycle, the incidence of migraine is highest during the menstruation period. Migraine usually begins 2-3 days before the onset of menstruation and continues through the first 3 days of menstruation.
If a woman suffers from migraine, chances are that the migraine will become even worse during pregnancy. This increased intensity of migraine during pregnancy occurs as a result of increased estrogen levels during that period.
Migraine attacks are also worsened when a woman is undergoing menopause. This is because of significant fluctuation in estrogen level. But once menopause has occurred, the migraine becomes less severe and in some cases, it may even stop. This is due to a significantly reduced level of estrogen in the body after menopause.
Since women are more vulnerable to migraine, they should be particularly careful to avoid common migraine triggers around the menstruation period.
Some of the common precautions to be taken during this period are as follows:
- Do not skip meals
- Exercise regularly
- Rest well
- If nothing else works, consider taking medications with the consultation of a physician
- Identify the stimuli which trigger migraine and avoid those stimuli to experience fewer migraine attacks
As clear from the above explanations, the occurrence of migraine is associated with feminine factors that are absent in males, thus, making it far more prevalent in females. While migraines don’t have a one-size-fits-all solution, it can be controlled by taking pro-active measures. Generally, a good exercise and ample sleep go a long way in keeping the migraine at bay but if conditions soar, a doctor’s visit is recommended.
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