Women may be more likely to suffer from migraines during their menstrual cycles because of changes to oestrogen levels in the body, research has suggested.
The study by a team at Charité Universitätsmedizin Berlin concluded that fluctuating levels of oestrogen can lead to an increased release the what is known as calcitonin gene-related peptide (CGRP), essentially protein in the brain that can cause headaches.
“This elevated level of CGRP following hormonal fluctuations could help to explain why migraine attacks are more likely during menstruation and why migraine attacks gradually decline after menopause,” said study author Bianca Raffaelli of the university’s Department of Neurology.
“These results need to be confirmed with larger studies, but we’re hopeful that they will help us better understand the migraine process,” she added.
The study has been published in the online issue of Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.
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The study involved three groups of female participants with episodic migraine. All had at least three days with migraine in the month before the study. The three groups were: those with a regular menstrual cycle, those taking oral contraceptives, and those who had gone through menopause.
Each group was compared to a group of female participants of similar ages who did not have migraine. Each group had 30 people, for a total of 180.
Researchers collected blood and tear fluid to determine CGRP levels. In those with regular menstrual cycles, the samples were taken during menstruation when oestrogen levels are low and around the time of ovulation, when levels are the highest.
In those taking oral contraceptives, samples were taken during the hormone-free time and the hormone-intake time. Samples were taken once from postmenopausal participants at a random time.
The study found that female participants with migraine and a regular menstrual cycle had higher CGRP concentrations during menstruation than those without migraine.
By contrast, female participants taking oral contraceptives and in post-menopause had similar CGRP levels in the migraine and non-migraine groups.
The researchers also plan to take a closer look at CGRP levels in men of varying age groups.