Medically reviewed by Sophia Yen, MD, MPH – Written by Pandia Health Editorial Team. Updated on January 21, 2021
Migraines are extremely uncomfortable and can even be debilitating. In fact, a migraine is the third most prevalent illness in the world, as 12% of the population will experience one at some point. While there is currently no cure for migraines, there are steps individuals can take to reduce the intensity of symptoms. While there are numerous methods that exist, the following article will focus on the relationship between birth control and migraines.
Does birth control help with migraines? Who can get a migraine?
While migraines are a common illness in general, women are more likely to suffer. More specifically, women in their reproductive years have a higher chance of experiencing migraine symptoms.
Migraines are more intense than a regular headache. They are accompanied by intense neurological symptoms that can become debilitating. In fact, 90% of people who get migraines are unable to perform their usual day-to-day functioning.
How is a migraine different from a headache?
A migraine is usually characterized by severe, throbbing pain on one side of the head, although in some cases, both sides of the head will be affected. Most migraines last between four and 72 hours, and are accompanied by one or more of the following symptoms:
- Pulsing or throbbing head pain
- Nausea and/or vomiting
- Dizziness and visual disturbances
- Sensitivity to light, sound, smell, and touch
- Tingling or numbness in the face or extremities
The above symptoms typically occur during the “attack” phase of the migraine (a.k.a when the migraine is occurring). Some individuals may also experience symptoms one or two days prior to the headache. This “prodrome” stage typically entails one or more of the following:
- Food cravings
- Fatigue or low energy
- Excessive yawning
- Depression, anxiety, or irritability
- Neck stiffness
The length and severity of symptoms may differ between individuals. However, it is possible to distinguish a migraine from a headache based on one’s ability or lack thereof to continue their day-to-day tasks while coping with the illness.
What causes migraines?
Until recently, the medical community believed that migraines were caused by blood vessel constriction in the head. Medications for migraines were targeted to dilating blood vessels in the pursuit of stopping migraines in their tracks and reversing symptoms. New research indicates that migraines may be related to abnormal nerve signaling, which ultimately leads to pain throughout the head.
Although there are some biological components that play a role in triggering migraines, individuals who suffer can typically identify environmental factors that lead to symptoms:
- High stress
- Lack of sleep
- Glaring or flickering lights
- Weather changes
- Certain foods
- Exposure to intense light and/or smells
It is recommended that individuals keep a record of their migraines to help determine the potential cause, ultimately increasing their ability to avoid triggers.
What causes migraines in females?
Women who have a history of migraines tend to report that the attacks typically start either right before or during their periods. This may be due to the fact that menstruation causes a drop in estrogen, or the female hormone. Some women report increased migraine attacks during pregnancy or menopause; these factors also lead to changes in estrogen levels.
Can birth control impact migraines?
Since around 1966, research has suggested that low-dose estrogen birth control pills can prevent migraines, while higher dose pills can sometimes make them worse. Every woman is different and will respond differently to hormonal contraceptives. Furthermore, it is important to consult a doctor about any history of migraines before trying a new hormonal contraceptive. Some migraine sufferers experience visual disturbances during an attack. This is referred to as a migraine “aura”. For women with a history of this type of migraine, birth control may not be recommended, as it could lead to stroke.
Best birth control pill for migraines
Birth control may help relieve symptoms of migraines without aura. In particular, the combination pill, progestin-only pill, patch, or ring may be recommended. These methods help to regulate hormones and reduce unpleasant period symptoms, one of which may be migraines.
Taking the pill continuously may also reduce the likelihood of migraines, as it prevents the drop in hormones that occurs when a woman stops taking the pill (i.e. while they are taking the placebo pill at the end of some packs). Some pill packs do not contain placebo pills, but even if they do, it is possible to skip these pills and start a new pack. When the placebo pills are skipped, hormones will continue to be released into the body.
Is it safe to take the pill continuously to prevent migraines?
In short, yes!
According to Dr. Sophia Yen, CEO & co-founder of Pandia Health, there are few health benefits to getting a monthly period. In fact, skipping periods may improve one’s quality of life. Not only will this method potentially prevent migraines, but it can also help to reduce symptoms associated with periods (i.e cramps, bloating, and acne). Additionally, not getting a period means there is no need to regularly spend money on period products such as pads and tampons.
It is possible for women with migraines to take low-dose estrogen birth control for at least three cycles continuously. This would cause their period to only come four times a year rather than 12. This, in turn, leads to a decreased chance of experiencing migraines associated with a monthly period.
What’s the takeaway?
Living with migraines can be extremely uncomfortable both physically and emotionally. Fortunately for women, birth control can help prevent migraine attacks and improve their overall quality of life., While birth control can be used solely for the purpose of preventing pregnancy, 7% of users implement this treatment for various additional health reasons including migraines.
It’s now easier than ever to have hormonal birth control pills delivered straight to your door. Sign up with Pandia Health today to get your prescription delivered for FREE. If you do not currently have a prescription, schedule a consultation with one of our expert doctors to find a method that works best for you (Note: this only applies to patients in AZ, CA, CO, FL, GA, MI, NV, TX, WA, or WY). With Pandia Health, you can be confident that you will never run out of birth control!
Frequently Asked Questions
What causes migraines in females?
Although the exact cause may vary, migraines in women may be caused by a change in estrogen levels. This is believed to be the case because women tend to experience migraines before or during their period.
Does birth control help with migraines?
Birth control can help with migraines, as it helps to regulate estrogen levels. However, it may not be recommended for women who experience migraines with aura because it could lead to adverse symptoms.
Can birth control cause migraines?
While this is less common, birth control may cause migraines in some women.
Can stopping birth control cause headaches?
Stopping birth control may cause headaches due to the drop in hormones that occurs. For this reason, taking continuous birth control may be recommended as a form of treatment.
How to get rid of hormonal headaches?
Although stopping headaches altogether is not possible, some methods can be implemented to reduce the intensity of symptoms. Lifestyle habits such as eating a nutritious diet, drinking plenty of water, getting adequate rest, and exercising may be recommended as natural remedies.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article intend to inform and induce conversation. They are the views of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Pandia Health. This article is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment, and should never be relied upon for specific medical advice.