Recent studies confirm that headaches can be triggered by a drop in oestrogen levels, such as happens around period time, and during the peri-menopause. Many women experience this, but now there is scientific work to prove it.
There is now also research to support the role of oestrogen in the physiology of migraine as well. The neurotransmitter Serotonin is known to play a role in causing migraine, and Oestrogen helps prevent the breakdown of Serotonin, thus keeping our levels normal and helping prevent migraine.
When Oestrogen levels drop, (e.g. at menopause) Serotonin is more easily broken down, and the decreased levels can promote migraine. A further interesting fact is that serotonin is implicated in the physiology of hot flushes as well. Using medication to limit the degradation and re-uptake of Serotonin has been found effective for many patients: these are the SSRI’s often used to treat depression, another condition in which Serotonin levels are low.
So using an SSRI for menopausal symptoms may have several benefits: helping with headaches and migraines; stabilising mood symptoms and helping with hot flushes. SSRI’s are freely available here on prescription, but are not officially registered in RSA for use in menopausal symptoms. Your medical aid will thus only pay for them if they are prescribed for depression. However, they are so well priced that they are affordable and may be worth a try if you are battling with menopausal headaches and flushes and would prefer to avoid using hormone replacement therapy.
The SSRI’s take a little longer to work compared to Oestrogen, but for those women who may not use hormones – e.g. those with hormone sensitive breast cancer, or who prefer to avoid HRT, this may be an acceptable means of controlling the unpleasant flushes associated with menopause. They also have the added benefit of helping the mild depression that may result from the many changes triggered by menopause.