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Decoding the migraine

CINCINNATI (Angenette Levy) -- People who have had migraines know how painful and debilitating they can be.

Research showed more than 10 percent of Americans suffer from migraines.  Now researchers at the University of Cincinnati said the headaches could be a symptom of something more in some women.

Ryan Bishop is the mother of four active children.  Over the years, the pounding and pulsing pain that accompanies a migraine has slowed Ryan down.

"Usually around my period I would get them and I would have them the whole time.  So about four or five days I would get them and at least once a month," said Ryan.

Doctors believe a drop in estrogen levels during the menstrual cycle can trigger migraines.  But what a doctor at UC recently found was that women can get more headaches during menopause and the time before it starts, called perimenopause.

Dr. Vincent Martin said, "For years women have been telling us their migraines get worse around menopause.  But there really have not been studies to document that."  

Doctor Martin is the director of the headache and facial pain program at the University of Cincinnati Neuroscience Institute.  He studied the causes of headaches including migraines for years.  Recently, Dr. Martin authored a study that found migraines could be a symptom of menopause.

"I think in the past headache and migraine has not really been considered a symptom of menopause. But I think that our data would suggest that just like hot flashes and irritability and worsening of depression that headache is one more symptom that women get during their perimenopausal years," said Dr. Martin.

Dr. Martin said menstrual migraines in women can be treated with drugs called Triptans.  But he also said making changes to birth control pills and a woman wearing an estrogen patch before and during a menstrual period can curb the headaches.

Ryan bishop hasn't had as many migraines since she had a hysterectomy.  But she hopes the new findings can help other women.

Taking estrogen can increase the risk of heart attack and stroke in some women.  Doctor Martin said women should talk with their gynecologist about whether taking estrogen is the right solution for their migraine symptoms.

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