New research shows that for women with a history of migraines, estrogen levels may drop more rapidly in the days just before menstruation than for women who don’t suffer from migraines.

The study also showed that women with a history of migraines had a faster rate of estrogen decline regardless of whether they had a migraine during that particular menstrual cycle.

“These results suggest that a ‘two-hit’ process may link estrogen withdrawal to menstrual migraine. More rapid estrogen decline may make women vulnerable to common triggers for migraine attacks such as stress, lack of sleep, foods, and wine,” said study author Jelena Pavlovic, M.D., Ph.D., of Albert Einstein College of Medicine/Montefiore Medical Center in Bronx, N.Y., and a member of the American Academy of Neurology.

For the study, researchers reviewed migraine history, daily headache diaries, and hormone data for 114 women with a history of migraine and 223 women without a history of migraine. The average age of the women was 47 years old.

The researchers measured hormone levels from daily urine samples for one monthly cycle. The women’s peak hormone levels, average daily levels, and day-to-day rates of decline were calculated over the five days following each hormone peak in their cycles.

In the two days after the peak estrogen level in the luteal phase of the cycle, which is the time after ovulation and before menstruation, the estrogen levels in the women with migraine dropped by 40 percent compared to 30 percent for women without migraine, according to the study’s findings.

The rate dropped 34 picrograms per milligram of creatinine (pg/mgCr) in women with migraine, compared to 23 pg/mgCr in women without migraine.

“Future studies should focus on the relationship between headaches and daily hormone changes and explore the possible underpinnings of these results,” said Pavlovic.

While the study’s size and amount of hormone data are strengths, limitations include proportionately more Chinese and Japanese women in the group of women without migraine and more white and black women in the migraine group. The level of sex hormones may differ according to racial and ethnic differences, the researchers noted.

The study is published in Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.

Source: American Academy of Neurology