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Can Hormone Birth Control Provide Menstrual Migraine Relief?

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Updated February 25, 2011

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Can Hormone Birth Control Provide Menstrual Migraine Relief?

Menstrual Migraines Relief

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Question: Can Hormone Birth Control Provide Menstrual Migraine Relief?
Menstrual migraines affect about 15% of women and are thought to be triggered by hormone (estrogen and progesterone) fluctuations that occur during one’s menstrual cycle. Certain hormone birth control methods have been shown to provide some menstrual migraine relief.
Answer:

Hormone birth control (like the Pill) tends to be a popular contraceptive choice for many women. But it can also be helpful for women suffering from certain disorders, including menstrual migraines. It is necessary to point out that individual woman may react differently to specific birth control methods, so this information is meant as a general overview. Please be aware that the main reason to use hormone birth control is for contraception (to prevent an unintended pregnancy) -- possible noncontraceptive benefits can be considered when determining which hormone birth control method to ultimately use.

The following is a list of specific prescription birth control methods that have been shown to be effective in providing some menstrual migraine relief:

  • Extended Cycle Pills: continuous hormonal contraception like extended cycle pills can reduce the number of your menstrual periods. Combination birth control pills like Seasonique allow you to only have four periods a year. The combined OC, Lybrel, will completely stop your menstrual period for a full year. Because these extended cycle pills can either reduce or eliminate menstrual periods, the hormone fluctuations associated with menstruation are also diminished. This reduction in hormonal fluctuation may lead to menstrual migraine relief (because these migraines may not be triggered).


  • Ortho Evra Patch: Unlike birth control pills, which must be taken every day, the patch is applied once a week. Although you still have a monthly withdrawal bleed ("pretend period"), hormone fluctuations may be decreased by the steady supply of hormones provided by the Orth Evra patch.


  • NuvaRing: The NuvaRing is inserted and left in place for three weeks. It provides a continuous and steady dose of hormones during that time. Like the patch, this continuous hormone dose can lead to fewer hormone fluctuations and can help prevent the onset of menstrual migraines.


  • Depo Provera: Each Depo Provera injection lasts for 11 to 14 weeks. Since the injection is designed to provide a continuous amount of progestin during that time frame, hormonal fluctuations thought to trigger menstrual migraine attacks tend to be reduced or eliminated as well. This may also afford menstrual migraine relief for some women.

**It is important to point out that combination birth control pills may not be the safest contraceptive option for women who suffer from non-menstrual migraines. Combined OC side effects (such as stroke) rarely occur in women with migraines. However, the impact of a stroke can be so severe that many doctors tend to recommend progestin-only birth control, IUDs, diaphragms, or over-the-counter contraceptives for women who experience migraine with focal neurological signs (visual disturbances, auras, dots of light, partial loss of vision, seeing wavy or zig-zag lines, numbness and/or slurred speech).

Sources:

Case AM, Reid RL. "Effects of the menstrual cycle on medical disorders." Arch Intern Med 1998; 158:1405–12. Accessed via private subscription.

LaGuardia KD, Fisher AC, Bainbridge JD, LoCoco JM, Friedman AJ. "Suppression of estrogen-withdrawal headache with extended transdermal contraception." Fertil Steril 2005; 83:1875–7. Accessed via private subscription.

Nelson AL. "Extended-cycle oral contraception: a new option for routine use." Treat Endocrinol 2005; 4:139–45. Accessed via private subscription.

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