Migraine in females: What are the causes?

migraine in females

Migraine may affect anybody, but women are more likely to suffer from it. Females are three to four times more likely than males to suffer from migraines.

This figure is from a study published in the journal Frontiers in Neurology.

The causes for migraine being more prevalent in women are unknown. Scientists believe it has something to do with hormonal swings that occur during the menstrual cycle, though.

Migraine, on the other hand, is a complicated illness with no one etiology. Hormonal changes are only one of the numerous reasons that might cause a migraine attack.

The causes of migraine in women, the relationship between migraine and hormones, and migraine triggers are all discussed in this article.

Sex and gender exist on spectrums.

Gender and sex exist on a spectrum. This article will use the terms “male,” “female,” or both to refer to the sex assigned at birth. To learn more, visit here.

What is migraine?

migraine in females

Migraine is a chronic headache disorder caused by a complicated neurological problem. Other symptoms, such as nausea and sensitivity to light or sound, may accompany these episodes.

Aura, which refers to transient sensory disruptions that occur before the headache, affects about 20% of migraine sufferers.

Migraine was once assumed to be caused by the dilatation of blood vessels in the brain, resulting in pressure and discomfort. They now understand that this is not the case.

According to research, migraine is caused by a series of changes in the nervous system and brain that can start up to three days before the headache.

According to a 2018 study, this begins with alterations in the hypothalamus, limbic system, and cortical parts of the brain. People may then experience something akin to cortical-spreading depression, which occurs when nerves in the brain become briefly dormant during the aura phase.

The trigeminovascular system then becomes active during the headache phase. The trigeminal nerve is part of this system. This nerve wraps around the side of the head, especially behind the eye, a major source of migraine symptoms.

Why are females more prone to migraines?

Migraines are caused by a variety of factors. Genetics, according to scientists, is one of the reasons behind this. This means that people who have had migraines in their family may be more likely to get one themselves.

There’s also evidence that some substances in the brain, such as calcitonin gene-related peptide, have a role in migraine development. Anyone, regardless of sex, can be affected by these circumstances.

Females, on the other hand, are three to four times more likely than males to suffer from migraines. This is true just after puberty. The incidence of migraine is the same in both sexes before puberty.

This might be due to a variety of factors, including:

  • Impact of genes: Scientists have discovered 38 genetic variants that may have a role in migraine so far. According to some data, these differences may have distinct effects on males and girls.
  • Hormones: Most females start their menstrual cycle after puberty, which involves monthly variations in hormones including progesterone and estrogen. These hormones may have an effect on the neurological system and brain, increasing the risk of migraine.
  • Stress: Migraines can be triggered by stress. This, according to some studies, is due to the fact that stress causes inflammation in the body. Females are more likely than males to have migraines as a result of this. Stress generated greater inflammatory levels in female rats in previous animal research in male and female rats. However, additional study is required in this area.

Scientists are unsure of the specific relationship between sex hormones and migraines. One review is scheduled for 2020. According to Trusted Source, prior studies on this topic has various shortcomings, making it difficult to discern the link.

To begin with, most studies on the involvement of sex hormones in migraine have been conducted on male animals. As a result, there is a scarcity of data on how migraine affects female animals.

Second, a lot of earlier research hasn’t made a clear distinction between gender and sex. Gender is based on identity, whereas sex is based on biological features. As a result, it’s difficult to say how much sex-based changes, such as the menstrual cycle, play a role in migraine in women.

By increasing the probability of cortical-spreading depression, high estrogen levels may increase the risk of migraine with aura. This might explain why estrogen-containing oral birth control pills make migraines worse for patients who have aura.

Estrogen may interact with some nerves, making them more susceptible to migraine triggers. According to research published in 2018, estrogen enhances sensitivity in the cells of the trigeminal nerve, despite testosterone‘s protective impact.

Falling estrogen levels after ovulation, according to an older idea, might be the cause of a rise in migraine attacks prior to menstruation. However, this idea does not hold water with all scholars.

Other triggering factors

Although hormonal changes can cause migraines, numerous other variables can also play a role. These include the following, according to the American Migraine Foundation:

  • Stress: Almost 70% Stress is said to trigger migraine attacks in nearly 70% of migraine sufferers. If a person is worried about having a migraine attack, it might set off a stressful cycle that leads to further headaches.
  • Sleep: People who have an inconsistent sleep routine are more likely to have episodes. However, over half of migraine attacks occur between the hours of 4 a.m. and 9 a.m., putting migraine sufferers at a higher risk of sleep disturbances. Using drugs or other management measures to break the pattern may be beneficial.
  • Caffeine and alcohol consumption: It is possible that drinking coffee will cause a migraine attack. Some others, however, believe that coffee helps alleviate their symptoms. A migraine attack can also be triggered by drinking alcohol.
  • Weather: For certain people, changes in barometric pressure caused by extreme heat or storms can trigger migraine attacks.
  • Diet: Certain foods and ingredients, such as cheese, chocolate, and artificial sweeteners, have been reported to trigger migraine attacks in certain people.
  • Dehydration: Dehydration is a migraine trigger for about one-third of the population. Dehydration has negative affects all over the body, including dizziness and confusion, as well as migraine symptoms.
  • Bright light: Natural light has an effect on some people’s migraines. Artificial, bright, or flickering lights, on the other hand, are more bothersome for certain people.
  • Smells: Certain odours can cause or aggravate a migraine attack by activating nerve receptors in the nose.


Treatment for migraine in women is often the same as it is for people of any gender.

Anti-inflammatory drugs sold over-the-counter (OTC), such as ibuprofen or aspirin, are frequently used as a first line of defense. If these don’t help, a doctor may give triptans or other migraine medications.

There are, however, some additional therapy options for ladies suffering from migraines linked to their menstrual cycle. These options include:

  • Estrogen supplementation: Patches, topical gels, and creams containing estrogen are examples of this method. After ovulation, using these products may prevent a decrease in estrogen levels, which may help some women avoid migraine attacks.
  • Magnesium: Magnesium supplements can be used as a type of preventative therapy. They can begin taking them on the fifteenth day of their menstrual cycle and continue until their next menstruation.
  • Progesterone-only contraceptives: These are contraceptive methods that are not as effective as combination contraceptives. They function by preventing ovulation and the hormonal changes that occur as a result of it without using estrogen.
  • Combined contraceptives: Both estrogen and progesterone are found in combined contraceptives. Some patients may find that these drugs minimize migraine attacks by lowering the significant variations in their hormone levels during the menstrual cycle. It is crucial to remember, however, that persons who suffer from migraines with aura are unable to take estrogen.

It is critical for a person to collaborate with a doctor in order to develop a treatment plan that is appropriate for them. Doctors often advise trying drugs and other treatments first, as hormonal therapies may come with additional dangers.

Similar conditions

Migraine can be caused by a number of disorders, including:

  • tension headache
  • cervicogenic headache, which occurs due to the compression of nerves in the spine
  • cluster headache, which causes intense pain and burning around the eyes
  • primary stabbing headache (or ice-pick headache), which causes sudden, intense, and sharp pain that may last for only 5–30 seconds at a time

The symptoms of migraine aura might sometimes resemble those of a stroke. As a result, any migraine-like symptoms should be discussed with a doctor so that an appropriate diagnosis may be made.


Migraine is more prevalent in adult females than in adult males. Scientists are baffled as to why this is so.

Genetics is one of the most important risk factors for migraine in everyone. Females, on the other hand, may be more susceptible to the illness due to extra variables.

Rising or dropping estrogen levels, for example, might explain why women are more likely to get migraines. It’s also probable that social variables like stress and anxiety have a role in the illness.

Doctors can treat migraine attacks that appear to be linked to the menstrual cycle by regulating hormone levels and reducing episodes.


  • https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7642465/
  • https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fmolb.2018.00073/full
  • https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/what-causes-migraine-in-females
  • https://headachejournal.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/head.13300
  • https://americanmigrainefoundation.org/resource-library/menstrual-migraine-treatment-and-prevention/
  • https://americanmigrainefoundation.org/resource-library/top-10-migraine-triggers/
  • https://americanmigrainefoundation.org/resource-library/what-is-migraine/
  • https://americanmigrainefoundation.org/resource-library/what-type-of-headache-do-you-have/