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Women and Migraine Headaches

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Women have good historical cause to lament that they, not men, must endure the labor pains of childbirth. On top of that, now we must consider migraine headaches. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reports that among the 30 million Americans who endure migraine headaches, three quarters of them are of the female persuasion. Furthermore, those on the female side suffer the worst and longest-lasting of these miserable experiences.

Is there no gender justice? But among the millions who endure such intense and throbbing pain, in the temples or behind the eyes or the ears, this is no lighthearted matter. The associated nausea and vomiting are no picnic either. Girls and women are seeking solutions, and so is

The enduring frustration is that medical researchers still say that answers are elusive. They have learned that more than half of females report that migraines are more frequent during or near the times of their periods, enough that the phrase “menstrual migraine” has been coined. But among these ActiveAmericans, only a small fraction follow up to say that they are free of migraines at other times of the month.

Explanations begin with some delving into elementary school grammar. Teenage girls and women, mostly through the ages of fifteen to fifty-five, describe their hardships as plural “migraines” because the pain attacks occur so often. But doctors state the singular “migraine” as they would state “diabetes” or “cancer.” As in, “Migraine is a singular medical condition.” The good news is that migraine usually is not a threat to overall long-term health. Still, migraine sure packs a wallop in day-to-day life.

Migraine can wreak its havoc at any time of day, but usually it starts in the morning. It can go away in two hours or last for two days. Some people will experience migraine twice a week, others twice a year. Family history inheritance often is involved, which presents another puzzle for researchers who have not been able to nail down a genetic connection.

One unusual point is that migraine does not get worse with age. Oddly enough, it often gets better starting with the ActiveAmericans minimum membership age of forty-five. Researchers offer theories that personal life pressures ease after menopause and/or the childbirth years, but they are not sure about that, either.

All of this “not sure” does not mean that advice is not available. Doctors say women should try to get some good sleep, eat regular meals, avoid bright lights and loud noises, and stay away from too much alcohol and caffeine. And, of course, exercise is always good.

Food seems inevitable to bring into the picture. Avoid:

  • Nitrates in hot dogs, bologna, salami, etc.
  • MSG (monosodium glutamate) flavor enhancers
  • Tyramine in aged cheeses, sausages, and smoked fish
  • Aspartame sugar substitute
  • The toughest of all: chocolate.

To help your doctor figure out what is happening amid all of this migraine mystery, consider keeping a diary of the times when your forehead gets flummoxed.

By Michael Thompson


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