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Exclusive: Experts Explain Why Women Are More Vulnerable To Migraine Than Men

According to statistics, close to 30 per cent of the global population suffers from migraine. Being the third most common disease in the world, it affects women more than men. More prevalent than diabetes and asthma (combined), the condition affects 1 in 7 people. More clearly, migraine affects three-times as many women as men[1] .

One in four women suffers from migraine continuously. And no, it is not because of the decade-old belief that women are incapable of coping with stress. Medical experts assert other reasons, which are grounded in theory and not just the assumptions made by some random men, decades ago.

Boldsky interviewed Dr Arya Krishnan, Chief Medical Officer at Sukino Healthcare Solutions and Dr Sneha Ajay, Resident Doctor at Fortis Hospital, who shared their medical opinions on the high prevalence of migraine in women than men.

Studies point out that women experience migraines that are longer and more painful. 85 per cent of the chronic migraine cases are reported in women and 92 per cent of women who suffer from migraine becomes disabled, restricting them from doing anything at all [2] .

The Association Between Hormones And Migraine

With a prominent hike in the number of women suffering from migraine, medical experts and researchers have taken it up as a critical topic to be studied on. And studies reveal that hormones play a major role in triggering migraine in women [3] .

In most women, the migraine episodes are associated with menstruation, hormonal contraception, pregnancy and menopause.

Studies point out that, once a female begins her menstruation the hormones begin to fluctuate - along with the migraine episodes increasing drastically. On speaking to Boldsky, Dr Arya Krishnan asserted that,

"During childhood migraine has a higher incidence in boys than girls. But after puberty, a higher prevalence of migraine in girls and women could mean there's an association of migraine with oestrogen".

She went on to point out the central role played by oestrogen in triggering migraines in women, by considering the high prevalence of migraine during pregnancy, while taking birth control pills and the attacks during menopause. The medical expert also explained the difference between natural menopause and surgical menopause, where the women who undergo surgical menopause has severe and longer migraine attacks in comparison to the ones who had natural menopause[4] [5] .

Dr Sneha Ajay pointed out that,

"Migraines are generally caused when the vessels in your brain (or brain vasculature) dilate due to certain triggers. This dilation causes pain and visual symptoms when the vessels compress the surrounding areas. Now oestrogen plays a role in vessel tone i.e., helps dilate or contract vessels. It's not the main functions but one of their many functions. Now oestrogen and progesterone and predominantly female sex hormones, so the chances of oestrogen causing these changes to the brain vessels are higher in women compared to men".

Both the medical experts strongly indicated on the central role played by hormones in triggering migraine in women. Dr Sneha Ajay went on to mention that although the current understanding of migraine in women is linked with the hormone oestrogen, studies are still ongoing to gather a clearer understanding of the increasingly high impact on women.

"This is what we know currently of migraine headaches and the role oestrogen plays in it. There's still a lot of research going on though. It has also been seen in women who use hormonal contraceptives ( i.e., birth control pills) have a higher incidence of migraines".

Dr Arya Krishnan also pointed out that lifestyle modifications are one of the best and effective ways to manage the migraine attacks.

"Migraine attacks are triggered by various factors, such as your daily routine, food habits, screen time etc. One of the best ways to prevent an attack is to identify the trigger and avoiding them, as you will be more aware of what triggers the attack".

View Article References
  1. [1] Todd, C., Lagman-Bartolome, A. M., & Lay, C. (2018). Women and migraine: the role of hormones.Current neurology and neuroscience reports,18(7), 42.
  2. [2] Kurth, T., Winter, A. C., Eliassen, A. H., Dushkes, R., Mukamal, K. J., Rimm, E. B., ... & Rexrode, K. M. (2016). Migraine and risk of cardiovascular disease in women: prospective cohort study.bmj,353, i2610.
  3. [3] Rist, P. M., Winter, A. C., Buring, J. E., Sesso, H. D., & Kurth, T. (2018). Migraine and the risk of incident hypertension among women.Cephalalgia,38(12), 1817-1824.
  4. [4] van den Brink, A. M., & MacGregor, E. A. (Eds.). (2019).Gender and Migraine. Springer.
  5. [5] Ripa, P., Ornello, R., Degan, D., Tiseo, C., Stewart, J., Pistoia, F., ... & Sacco, S. (2015). Migraine in menopausal women: a systematic review.International journal of women's health,7, 773.
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