S&W study may make migraines a thing of the past

Temple Daily Telegram

By Janice Gibbs

August 9, 2008

A Scott & White study targeting women who suffer migraine headaches during their menstrual cycle is a good fit for Dr. Patricia J. Sulak, the study’s principal investigator.

Dr. Sulak, obstetrician/gynecologist at Scott & White and professor at Texas A&M Health Science Center College of Medicine, said it’s only normal she would be interested in preventing migraines in women, since she takes care of women in her practice.

Of the 28 million people in the United States who have migraine headaches, 21 million are women, Dr. Sulak said. Sixty percent of those headaches in women occur around the time of their periods.

The menstrual headache is the worst type of migraine because it lasts longer, is more severe and more difficult to treat, Dr. Sulak said.

There are other health problems associated with a woman’s period – cramps, heavy bleeding and premenstrual syndrome.

The economic impact of this health issue is great and not only includes the money spent on medication, but loss of productivity at work, she said.

“We’re spending billions on prescription and over-the-counter medications,” she said.

Menstrual migraines usually begin a couple of days before the period or at the beginning of the menstrual cycle because of the fluctuation in the woman’s hormone levels.

“These headaches take place when the hormone levels, particularly estrogen, begin to drop,” Dr. Sulak said. “These are estrogen withdrawal headaches.”

This problem is also experienced by women on birth control pills because many women take the pills for 21 days and are off for seven. It’s during those seven off days the headaches take place.

“At Scott & White we’ve been instrumental in redesigning birth control pills to get rid of the headaches and the problems associated with birth control pills,” Sulak said.

Many of those who now take birth control pills continuously, without the seven-day break, no longer suffer from cramps, PMS or headaches, Dr. Sulak said.

This single center study was designed by Sulak and Dr. Thomas Kuehl, director of OB/GYN research division at Scott & White.

Scott & White physicians began recognizing the problem in the 1990s and published their first article in a medical journal in 2000.”

“My job as a gynecologist is try to improve the health of women in various ways and to make sure I’m not harming their health,” she said. “We’re looking at whether we can reduce a number of debilitating monthly problems by reducing the number of periods women have per year.”

The periods are not completely eliminated, Dr. Sulak said.

There are those who believe reducing the number of periods women have in a year would be unhealthy, but it’s not, she said.

Women were not biologically designed to have 12 periods a year, Dr. Sulak said.

“We were designed to have a bunch of kids and breast feed,” she said. “Women are now having more periods year after year after year. They’re developing menstrual problems. They’re developing endometriosis, which can lead to infertility. They’re getting cysts on their ovaries, and fibroid tumors on their uteruses.”


Author: Leslie Carol Botha

Author, publisher, radio talk show host and internationally recognized expert on women's hormone cycles. Social/political activist on Gardasil the HPV vaccine for adolescent girls. Co-author of "Understanding Your Mood, Mind and Hormone Cycle." Honorary advisory board member for the Foundation for the Study of Cycles and member of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research.