Migraine, its Causes and why it’s more common in Women

22 January, 2019

It’s not easy being an Indian woman. Traditionally, they are deemed as the caretakers of the family’s needs, but increasingly, their workload is multiplying as over 70% of married women are also working outside their homes. A culmination of their job responsibilities paired up with their traditional responsibility as the home-makers, the ‘perfect wife and mother’, means a lot of stress on these women.

Add to this the fact that women find it difficult to say ‘no’ and end up doing more at work than their male counterparts as well as always having to ‘prove’ that they can perform as well as any man at work, takes its toll on the woman’s health eventually. All this can lead to stress, anxiety, depression and yes, even migraines, so it’s definitely not easy being a woman!

Additionally, hormonal changes occurring throughout a woman’s life such as during puberty, post-pregnancy, before or during menstruation and during the process of menopause, are all also proven to contribute towards migraines. Some oral hormonal contraceptive pills are also known to trigger migraine headaches. The fluctuation in the estrogen levels at these instances is believed to influence cellular or cerebral vasculature excitability. This has lead to some school of thoughts declaring migraines a predominantly female disorder. In fact, women are four times more likely to get migraines than men. Women with migraine auras are also thought to be at greater risk for stroke, cardiac diseases and vascular mortality.

Reports suggest that one in every three women is prone to migraines. But then, what are migraines? They are primarily a headache disorder which could be recurrent and moderate or severe in intensity. These searing headaches that feel like a hammering or banging inside the skull, are often accompanied by vision problems, nausea, vomiting, tingling in the limbs and an increased sensitivity towards light and sound. These headaches can be severely debilitating with some people becoming incapacitated for up to a week. Unfortunately there is no permanent cure available for them, only treatment with painkillers and medications to prevent their onset.

There is a reason why they say men are from Mars and women are from Venus, and it’s not just because of their thought process! The difference goes much deeper, in fact, down to their mast cells, a specific type of white blood cell. These mast cells play an important role in stress-related health issues such as migraines, irritable bowel syndrome, allergic disorders and autoimmune diseases. Female mast cells were found to have 8,000 differently expressed genes as compared to their male counterparts. These are linked to an increased activity in inflammatory substances contained within the mast cells, resulting in a more aggressive response culminating in diseases in the women.

This finding could be used as a stepping-stone towards making women less prone to migraines and other stress-related diseases.