History of Migraine For Both Sexes
For years, people have regarded migraine as a women’s health issue only. Indeed, the evidence seems to show that women are afflicted with migraine two to three times more than men. Also, women are more likely to report their symptoms to a doctor and receive treatment and prevention for their migraines.
However, as research and discussion increase about this condition, we’re learning that migraine is a men’s health issue too.
There are similarities and differences between the cause, pattern, and triggers for migraine in both men and women. However, due to harmful gender associations with a condition deemed a “women’s issue,” men are not accessing health care and therefore, not getting the diagnosis and treatment that they need. These stereotypes not only hurt men, but has widespread implications for women’s health issues as well.
Causes of Migraine in Men
It’s important to understand that a migraine is not the same as a regular headache. The symptoms, which involve pulsating pain that begins on one side of the head, nausea, sensitivity to external stimuli, and may or may not have a preceding aura, are vastly different from a headache.
The aura that often comes before a migraine may involve flashing lights, sensory changes, sleep and energy disruptions, and other abnormal sensations. Both men and women have similar migraine symptoms and aura but may have differences in frequency, pattern, and triggers.
We know now that migraine may have a hormonal connection. Studies show that a common trigger for migraine attacks in women is the sudden post-ovulation drop in estrogen. And these fluctuations may cause a hyper-excitability in the brain that contributes to migraine development.
Recent research suggests that men with migraine may also be experiencing hormonal fluctuations. Both women and men have differing levels of estrogen and testosterone. However, estrogen is known to cause neurological excitation, whereas testosterone has the opposite effect.
Experts say that men who have lower testosterone levels have increased neurological excitation and sensitivity. As testosterone decreases, the smaller amount of estrogen may become more dominant in function.
It may surprise male migraineurs to know that they may be predisposed to having increased estrogen and decreased testosterone. And that these hormones in men rise and fall for different reasons than what women experience.
Of course, there are other causal factors for the development of migraine. Like women, men are susceptible to common migraine triggers, which include stress, certain foods, insufficient sleep, skipping meals, chemical scents, and irritating stimuli. However, things such as alcohol, work, and financial pressure, and physical labor may be more common triggers for men.
Research suggests that all migraineurs, regardless of sex, may have more sensitive brains making them more likely to suffer from a migraine condition. This sensitivity may increase the frequency of other ailments such as depression, fibromyalgia, chronic pain, and sleep disorders.
The pattern and location of this sensitivity may be different between males and females, which may account for the migraine differences between the sexes.
We know that the cause of migraine in men is similar as it is for women but with slightly different patterns and triggers. We also know that hormonal issues, environmental factors, and increased brain and neurological sensitivity all play a part.
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Health Risks of Migraine in Men
Migraine is ranked the third most common disease in the world for both men and women and is the seventh leading cause of global disability. It’s crucial that we have more dialogue about the economic and social costs of this condition. Also, for men, these costs increase when they don’t receive a proper diagnosis and treatment.
Migraineurs are more likely to suffer from other disabling conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, depression, addiction, and chronic pain. Although both men and women have an increased risk of cardiovascular issues such as stroke, aneurysm, and vascular problems, men are more likely to develop these health issues than women.
The number one reason why male migraineurs are less likely to seek medical attention is because of the gender stereotype associated with this conditon. Most men believe that migraines are a women’s health issue only.
This is a crucial issue to understand because as a society, we tend to dismiss and render women’s health issues as weak or hysterical. Even more so if these issues involve subjective pain, which is definitely the case for migraines.
Unfortunately, this leads to men to dismiss and criticize any health issue thought to belong to women. The end result is that men with migraines ignore the symptoms or label them as just a “bad headache” that they should work through on their own.
In the end, male migraineurs turn to self-medication and adopting an attitude of “toughing it out” rather than getting a proper diagnosis with treatment that works. As such, research shows that male migraineurs often abuse over the counter pain medication, alcohol, and other self-medicating drugs, which makes migraines and other health conditions much worse.
Untreated or inappropriately medicated migraines may have significant implications such as stroke, addiction, cardiovascular issues, depression, and disability. The subsequent health outcomes, costs, disability, and disruption of family and social life may further exacerbate the whole problem.
How Untreated Migraines May Impact Men
Without a proper diagnosis and ongoing care, men may be suffering in silence as well as ignoring symptoms that may point to more serious issues. It’s important to know that migraines are complex yet highly treatable once a proper diagnosis takes place. It may take time to understand the exact origin, pattern, and cause of individual migraine cases, but it’s imperative to work through this process with a doctor.
Many conditions have headache as a symptom, and when left untreated, they can be serious and even life-threatening. For instance, unruptured aneurysm, vascular diseases, inflammatory issues, or a rise in pressure inside the brain can all cause migraine-like headaches. It’s imperative to know the cause of headache pain so that proper treatment can reduce risks of complications.
However, since men may not seek help for migraine-like pain, they may also be at risk of undiagnosed conditions which can severely affect their lives and cause further disability or even death.
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Raising Awareness of Migraine in Men
The logical step forward is to increase the public dialogue about the causes, risks, and the need for diagnosis and treatment for migraine for both men and women. However, for men, the discussion needs to touch upon gender stereotypes and how they hurt men as well as women.
It’s not enough to understand that both men and women experience migraine with women being slightly higher in frequency. Men also need to know that attaching a label of “weakness” to migraines, just because more women experience them, can put the health of both women and men at risk.
Where women are seen as hysterical when it comes to migraine, men are regarded as “weak.” Both these views prevent proper diagnosis and treatment of migraine.
More discussion around gender inequality in health conditions such as migraine will benefit everyone. It’s essential for men to know that the brain or neurological sensitivity associated with migraines is not a “woman’s issue”; it’s a complex health issue that affects both sexes.
Also, the fact that men and women both possess estrogen and testosterone is a biological fact. However, many are not aware of the role these hormones play in the development of migraine for both sexes. More research and discussion about this will help decrease confusion and misunderstanding.
Lastly, although the statistics show that women are more likely to suffer from migraine, it would be interesting to know if these numbers could be skewed due to men having less inclination to seek medical attention or participate in studies about migraine conditions.
It’s safe to say that although women are at higher risk of developing a migraine condition, migraine is a men’s health issue too. More importantly, the complications as a result of undiagnosed and untreated migraine may seriously impede the life of men with this condition.
The best step men can take towards improving their health outcomes from migraine is to acknowledge the debilitating symptoms they have and seek medical attention. It may take some time to diagnose and find the right treatment, but this is a small price to pay when the alternative is living with disabling pain or increasing risks of serious complications.
For men who experience debilitating headaches, it’s crucial to learn about the specific symptoms of migraine and how they differ from a regular headache. Migraines are not something that can be managed by “toughing it out.” This belief may well pose risks to the health and wellbeing of men.
Men, women, and health professionals all need to question our current take on negative gender associations in health care. Not doing so, raises significant health risks for many conditions, including migraines.
Below is a list of research I used to inform and write this article.
- Sex-related differences in epidemiological and clinic-based headache studies.
- Migraine: the seventh disabler
- Migraine in men: fact sheet.
- The diagnosis and treatment of chronic migraine
- Migraine: Multiple Processes, Complex Pathophysiology
- Male and female sex hormones in primary headaches
- Role of Sex Hormones in Regulation of Sodium-Proton Exchanger NHE1: Implications for Migraine
- Study Findings Suggest Why Women Are More Likely to Experience Migraine
- Increased Estrogen Levels Associated With Migraine in Men
- Sex and the migraine brain
- Self-medication for migraine: A nationwide cross-sectional study in Italy
- On the effects of testosterone on brain behavioral functions