Characterized by infrequent, unpredictable, and often heavy bleeding, irregular periods are a symptom that affects the majority of women during perimenopause. Caused primarily by hormonal imbalances, menstrual irregularities might be common, but this does not make them any easier to deal with. Irregular periods can bring about a number of unpleasant side effects, the most common of these being bloating, abdominal and lower back cramps, and mood swings, but they have also been known to cause headaches and - in extreme cases - migraines.
Irregular Periods and Menopause
The average woman's menstrual patterns take place in approximate 28-day cycles during her reproductive life, with bleeding known as a period occurring for three to five of these days. Although this may vary slightly from woman to woman, any menstrual activity that strays drastically from this cycle or comes with abnormal bleeding (e.g., spotting between periods or heavy bleeding) is usually considered irregular.
The hormones that dictate the regularity of the menstrual cycle are estrogen and progesterone. During perimenopause, production of these hormones declines as the body prepares to stop periods altogether. As a result of hormonal imbalances, periods are likely to occur less frequently, and bleeding is usually heavier and more painful when periods do occur. This symptom can last for up to ten years with increasing amounts of time between periods. Menopause is understood to have taken place when a period has not occurred for one year.
Migraines and Menstruation
Migraines before or during menstruation are common and known as menstrual headaches, due to the hormonal activity occurring at this point in the menstrual cycle that causes them. When your periods are irregular, hormonal activity is more sporadic and extreme. This means that migraines are likely to occur with greater frequency and be more intense.
Migraines and Menopause
Estrogen and progesterone are hormones that help the blood vessels to expand and relax. During phases of hormonal change, like menopause, levels of estrogen and progesterone to fluctuate, and this may cause blood vessels in the brain to expand and constrict rapidly. When this creates blockages in the nerve pathway, a headache may occur. In extreme cases, the headaches will be migraines, which come with nausea, vomiting, sensitivity to light and sound, and intense pain that can last for hours.
This means that, while migraines may be a side effect of your menstrual activity, they are also a menopause symptom in their own right, so it's possible to experience hormone headaches without irregular periods, and vice versa. Bear in mind that migraines can also come from other sources, including dehydration, diet, and other menopause symptoms, like fatigue and anxiety.
While irregular periods are not a pleasant menopause symptom, they can be managed with pain relief techniques, stress management, and different home remedies for irregular periods. It can also help to be prepared for unexpected bleeding by carrying ample supplies of sanitary wear in your handbag. In contrast, migraines are often debilitating, and therefore ought to be a medical priority.
- Better Health Channel. (2014). Headaches and Hormones. Retrieved June 26, 2014, from http://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/bhcv2/bhcarticles.nsf/pages/Headache_and_hormones
- National Health Service UK. (2013). Hormone headaches. Retrieved June 26, 2014, from http://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/headaches/Pages/Hormonalheadaches.aspx
- National Health Service UK. (2013). Periods, Irregular - Causes. Retrieved June 26, 2014, from http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Periods-irregular/Pages/Causes.aspx
- National Health Service UK. (2013). Periods, Irregular - Treatment. Retrieved June 26, 2014, from http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Periods-irregular/Pages/Treatment.aspx
- National Institutes of Health. (2014). Menstruation. Retrieved June 26, 2014, from http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/menstruation.html
- The Ohio State University. (n.d.). Perimenopause. Retrieved June 26, 2014, from http://medicalcenter.osu.edu/patientcare/healthcare_services/womens_health/menopause/perimenopause/Pages/index.aspx