A woman places her hands on her head. She has a migraine.
The role of hormones on migraines is complex, but these early findings point to possible drug treatments and personalized medicine for migraine therapy. (For Spectrum Health Beat)


Our Take

Studies in basic science continue to reveal more detailed understanding of neurological processes involved in migraines, noted Jared Pomeroy, MD.

“Changing hormone levels, particularly the drop in estrogen and perhaps how rapidly the drop occurs prior to menstruation appear to contribute,” the Spectrum Health Medical Group neurologist said.

He anticipates that ongoing research into this influence and other aspects of migraine pathophysiology will likely reveal further targeted therapies for treatment.

“As one of the top 10 causes of disability worldwide with up to three times higher prevalence in women than men, targeted treatments represent significant steps forward in improving women’s health,” Dr. Pomeroy said.

New insight into why women get more migraines than men could lead to better treatments, researchers say.

The results of lab and animal experiments suggest changing levels of the female sex hormone estrogen make cells around a key nerve in the head and connected blood vessels more sensitive to migraine triggers. And that increases migraine risk.

The study was published in the journal Frontiers in Molecular Biosciences.

“We can observe significant differences in our experimental migraine model between males and females, and are trying to understand the molecular correlates responsible for these differences,” study co-author Antonio Ferrer-Montiel said in a journal news release.

He is a professor of biochemistry and molecular biology at Miguel Hernandez University in Elche, Spain.

Ferrer-Montiel said the effect of sex hormones on the trigeminal nerve appears to play an important role in women’s migraines that has not been addressed.

Because menstruating women have more migraines than men, period-related changes in estrogen levels were already a suspected factor, the study authors noted. The male sex hormone testosterone, meanwhile, appears to protect against the headaches.

The role of hormones on migraines is complex and much more research will be needed to understand it, Ferrer-Montiel said. For one thing, the current work relies on lab and animal studies, which are hard to translate to human migraine sufferers, he said. And findings in animals often do not pan out in humans.

But these early findings point to possible drug treatments, and the team plans to continue its research with models that better reflect real patients.

“If successful, we will contribute to better personalized medicine for migraine therapy,” Ferrer-Montiel said.