Connection Between Headaches and Hormones

How Changes in Hormone Levels May Trigger Headaches

How Your Hormones May be Affecting Your Headaches
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For some people, their headaches are linked to their hormones -- meaning underlying health conditions that impact hormones in their body are the source or trigger for their headaches.

Thyroid Hormone and Headaches

People who have a low level of thyroid hormone are considered hypothyroid. Since the thyroid gland is involved in a number of metabolic processes in the body, symptoms of hypothyroidism are variable in number and severity, but may include weight gain, fatigue, dry skin, and constipation.

In addition, people with hypothyroidism may also suffer from headaches that are related to their thyroid state. This headache is similar to a tension headache in that it feels like a band around the head and is generally not throbbing, like a migraine. A headache attributed to hypothyroidism is also persistent, but resolves within 2 months after the thyroid levels are normalized. 

Estrogen and Headaches

Many women endure migraines triggered by a drop in estrogen just before they begin menstruating. This is called a menstrual migraine, and symptoms resemble a migraine but are often more intense. Treatment with triptans is generally effective in alleviating the pain of a menstrual migraine.

For a woman who gets menstrual migraines frequently, her doctor may recommend taking a long-acting triptan starting a couple days prior to menstruation for a total of 5 to 6 days. This can help prevent a migraine attack from occurring.

Combined estrogen progesterone birth control pills, especially continuous pills, may also help prevent menstrual migraines in certain women.

Stress Hormone and Headaches

Stress is a major headache trigger and can cause a person to develop a new headache disorder or worsen an already existent headache disorder.

In addition, stress can trigger the transformation from episodic headaches to chronic headaches. While the exact ways in which stress affects a person's headache health is unclear, it's likely that the "stress hormone" cortisol plays a role.

Cortisol is a hormone released by the adrenal glands (small glands that sit upon the kidneys) when a person experiences stress. Cortisol has a number of effects on the body, like increasing the heart rate and raising a person's blood sugar. It may also trigger headaches through a complex interaction with a person's nervous system.

Glucose, Insulin, and Headaches

A drop in glucose levels which can occur from not eating or taking too much insulin can trigger a hypoglycemia-induced migraine.

Also, some people develop a headache when they stop eating, even if their glucose levels do not drop too low  -- this is known as a fasting headache. This type of headache usually occurs all over the head. It's also non-throbbing, like a tension headache, and resolves within 72 hours of eating.

Scientists do not think that a fasting headache is really from low glucose levels, but rather from some other process, like the stress in the body induced by fasting.

There also appears to be a link between chronic migraines and insulin resistance, especially in obese women. Insulin resistance means that a person produces insulin, but it's not used appropriately to lower blood sugar levels. Insulin resistance predisposes a person to developing type 2 diabetes mellitus.

The link between migraines and insulin resistance is unclear. It may be that people with insulin resistance tend to be obese, which increases inflammation in the body. This inflammation could make a person more prone to migraine attacks.

Bottom Line

If you think your headaches are linked to your hormones, please speak with your doctor. A good medical history and a couple simple blood tests may help tease this out for you.


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Fava, A., et al. (2014). Chronic migraine in women is associated with insulin resistance: a cross-sectional study. European Journal of Neurology, Feb;21(2):267-72.

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DISCLAIMER: The information in this site is for educational purposes only. It should not be used as a substitute for personal care by a licensed physician. Please see your doctor for diagnosis and treatment of any concerning symptoms or medical condition.

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