Why do women have a headache more often than men?

, medical expert
Last reviewed: 16.06.2019

All iLive content is medically reviewed or fact checked to ensure as much factual accuracy as possible.

We have strict sourcing guidelines and only link to reputable media sites, academic research institutions and, whenever possible, medically peer reviewed studies. Note that the numbers in parentheses ([1], [2], etc.) are clickable links to these studies.

If you feel that any of our content is inaccurate, out-of-date, or otherwise questionable, please select it and press Ctrl + Enter.

22 February 2019, 09:00

Migraine is a neurological pathology that, according to statistics, affects up to 20% of women and 6% of men on the planet. Moreover, the same statistics asserts that the female body reacts less to taking medications for stopping headache attacks. Having carefully analyzed the scientific literature on this issue, the Spanish neuroscientists from the University of Miguel Hernandez (Elche), determined that this discrepancy may be caused by the influence of sex hormones.

As it was found in earlier studies, the majority of the weaker sex suffer from regular headaches before or during the first days of the monthly cycle. In this period, the level of estrogen reaches its lowest level. This fact made scientists think that a change in estrogen has a direct impact on the development of migraine. However, until now, specialists have not been able to unravel the mechanisms of such a process.

Now, however, researchers have more thoroughly studied this issue - the frequent occurrence of migraine attacks in women. All existing research projects over the past few decades have been studied. As a result, experts concluded that estrogens can affect the cellular structures located around the trigeminal nerve, as well as the associated circulatory system. In total, this process leads to an increase in their sensitivity to migraine triggers.

“Of course, this is a complex reaction. We believe that modulation of the vascular-trigeminal system with the help of sex hormones is of great importance, and this value has not yet been sufficiently investigated, ”explains neurobiologist Antonio Ferrer-Montiel.

In addition, experts have found that testosterone creates a certain degree of protection against headaches. At the same time, prolactin, the level of which in the female body is higher, can aggravate the course of migraine.

Sex hormones regulate the function of the so-called transport proteins in nerve cells, which are stimulated by painful stimuli. As a result, the sensitivity of nociceptors to migraine triggers changes.

A scientific analysis of the facts clearly demonstrated that regular changes in the level of sex hormones in a woman’s body lead to an increase in the sensitivity of cellular structures surrounded by the trigeminal nerve. Such repeated stimuli make the female body more vulnerable to migraine attacks in a certain period of the monthly cycle.

Scientists notice that the announced results of the study are just a preliminary version that still needs to be confirmed experimentally. We can not stop at this stage, because experts still have to understand the hormonal mechanism of influence on the development of migraine at the molecular level. However, the steps taken are very important for science, because the main goal of researchers is the desire to help women overcome and prevent further occurrence of debilitating headaches, which, moreover, are difficult to treat.

Access to research information is open on the Frontiers in Molecular Biosciences pages (https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fmolb.2018.00073/full).

You are reporting a typo in the following text:
Simply click the "Send typo report" button to complete the report. You can also include a comment.