It’s a well-cited fact that up until the age of puberty, there are more boys who suffer from migraines than there are girls. After puberty, the number of males suffering from migraines is much lower than the number of females; with as many as three times the number of women suffering from migraines as compared to men.
It’s thought that this higher rate of women suffering from migraines is, in part, hormonally-driven. Now, a new study led by Dr. Vincent Martin, a professor in the Division of General Internal Medicine and the director of the Headache and Facial Pain Centre at the University of Cincinnati (UC) Gardner Neuroscience Institute in Ohio, has suggested that early puberty could play a role in the development of migraines within women.
The research encompassed data from 761 adolescent girls from three metropolitan areas in the US. The ages of the participants ranged from 8 to 10 at the beginning of the study, and the research was collected over a 10-year span which began in 2004. The scientists assessed the participants’ various bodily changes every 6-12 months to determine whether puberty was approaching or not. The signs of puberty were thelarche (breast development), pubarche (the growth of pubic hair), and menarche (the onset of menstruation).
Later on, at around the age of 16, participants also filled out questionnaires to identify their migraine status during the study. It was found that approximately 11% of the participants had received a migraine diagnosis, with a further 7% having a probable migraine diagnosis.
When the researchers looked at the data, they found that those participants who had migraines tended to have experienced breast development or the onset of menstruation earlier than those who did not suffer from migraines. Girls who suffered from migraines developed breasts around four months earlier, and experienced menstruation around five months earlier on average than those who did not suffer from migraines. Additionally, there was a considerably greater chance of developing migraine for each year earlier which breast development or menstruation onset occurred. However, the growth of pubic hair made no great difference to the migraine or no-migraine status.
This has significant implications as different hormones are present in the body at different stages of puberty. When pubic hair begins to grow, testosterone and androgens are present in the body, but it’s during breast development when oestrogen is first introduced to the body.
Dr. Martin said in relation to this study that it “implies that the very first exposure to oestrogen could be the starting point for migraine in some adolescent girls.”