What Causes Headaches While Pregnant

I Background And Objectives For The Systematic Review

Is it normal to have headaches during pregnancy?

Headache, one of the most common symptoms in the general population, is also common during pregnancy. Primary headache refers to conditions where the headache itself is the disorder. In contrast, secondary headaches are caused by an underlying disorder, such as stroke, venous thromboembolism,1,2 or pituitary tumors.3,4 Therapy for secondary headache in pregnancy generally targets the underlying disorder, and is thus not the focus of this review.

Primary headaches that occur in pregnant women are classified into four types: migraine, tension headache, cluster headache, and other trigeminal autonomic cephalgias .5 Migraine is by far the most frequent type, accounting for about 90 percent of primary headaches in pregnant women.2 The lifetime prevalence of migraine disorder among pregnant women is approximately 30 percent.6,7 Other types of primary headache during pregnancy are rarer.8 Primary headaches can be pre-existing or can occur for the first time during pregnancy, postpartum, or breastfeeding. The stress of pregnancy and imminent infant care may exacerbate the frequency and/or severity of primary headaches. Migraine remains the most common type of both pre-existing and pregnancy-onset primary headache.

Prevention Of Injury Headaches During Pregnancy

Holder can follow a set of preventive measures to reduce the feeling of headaches during pregnancy, and most important:

  • Rely on a healthy diet during pregnancy.
  • Get a sufficient amount of sleep per day.
  • Avoid headache triggers, and odors from foods and other things that led to the infection previously.
  • Aerobic exercise moderate daily, eg walking.
  • Learn how to control the tension and pressure nervous.
  • Meals and multiple balanced regularly during the day, so as to avoid falling blood sugar level, and drinking copious quantities of water, so drinking eight glasses a day at least.
  • Attention to the status of the body during standing and sitting so as to be straight.
  • Use ear headphones, wearing sunglasses in order to reduce exposure to light, sounds and if these conditions triggers headaches.

How Does Pregnancy Alter The Pattern Of Migraine

Pregnancy will usually reduce the frequency and severity of migraine attacks. This is especially true for women with migraine without aura. A minority of women have their first migraine attack during pregnancy or in the postpartum period.15 Migraine attacks often increase in frequency in the first trimester but can be expected to decrease later in pregnancy. However, although attacks are usually less frequent in the second and third trimesters, new onset aura may appear at that time.16

A recent large prospective study using the International Headache Societys definition criteria showed that by the third trimester of pregnancy 89% of women had either no attacks or fewer attacks.17 A prospective study of 49 women with migraine reported an 11%, 53%, and 79% reduction in attacks in the first, second, and third trimesters respectively.18 An older retrospective study of 1300 women reported a 67% cessation of migraine in pregnancy,19 and a smaller study of 18 patients found a 41% reduction in the overall frequency of headache.20 Taken together, these studies show that pregnancy is a time of substantial reduction in migraine attacks.

Although the relative hormonal stability in pregnancy is generally considered to be the basis for the improvement in headache, the detailed physiological mechanisms are not understood.4

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What Causes Headaches During Pregnancy Topic Guide

Pregnancy Complication In Migraine Patients

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Most previous literature focused on the effects of migraine on pregnancy, while other headache disorders were often neglected. In general, a preexisting migraine does not represent a risk factor for negative pregnancy outcome and no increase rate of fetal malformations could be detected in pregnant women suffering from migraine . However, migraine can be considered an important risk factor for hypertensive and vascular diseases during pregnancy .

The largest study to investigate the relationship between migraine and pregnancy complications was conducted by Bushnell et al. In form of a retrospective, population based case-control study on 18,345,538 pregnancies in the United States between 2000 and 2003 . 33,956 of the examined pregnant women had a migraine diagnosis. The authors detected a strong correlation between migraine and vascular diseases. In particular, the risk for stroke was 15-fold higher, with odds ratios of 30.7 for ischemic and 9.1 for hemorrhagic stroke. Other vascular conditions at elevated risk were myocardial infarction and other heart diseases , thromboembolic conditions , hypertension , pregnancy-hypertension and preeclampsia .

Comparable results regarding elevated risk for preeclampsia were collected by Simbar et al. In a retrospective study on 180 Iranian pregnant women those with a history of migraine had a 2.7-fold higher risk for developing preeclampsia .

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Headache Evaluation During Pregnancy

When evaluating your headache, your doctor will perform a detailed history. She may ask you questions pertaining to any medical conditions you have, like high blood pressure or depression, or whether you are taking any medications or over-the-counter supplements, like vitamins, caffeine, or laxatives.

Your doctor will also inquire as to the characteristics of your headache such as how intense it is, how long it has lasted, or whether there are associated symptoms like nausea or vomiting. This is done in order to make an accurate diagnosis, as well as to assess and rule out medical emergencies.

Some specific headache warning signs that warrant immediate medical attention include:

  • Worst headache of my life

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When Should I Call A Doctor Or Midwife About A Headache In Pregnancy

Call your midwife, doctor or hospital maternity unit if you have a very bad headache or a headache that wont go away. This could be a symptom of pregnancy induced hypertension. This is a type of high blood pressure that develops after 20 weeks and goes away within 6 weeks of the baby’s birth. Its also known as gestational high blood pressure or gestational hypertension.

Call your midwife, doctor or hospital straight away if you have a headache and vision problems and sudden swelling on your hands, feet, face or stomach. This could be a sign of pre-eclampsia, a pregnancy condition that can be dangerous for you and the baby if it is not monitored and treated.

  • discomfort in the lowest part of your stomach
  • needing to wee a lot or an uncontrollable need to wee
  • cloudy, foul-smelling or bloody wee
  • a raised temperature
  • feeling sick and vomiting.

This could be a sign of a urinary tract infection. UTIs cab be treated with antibiotics that are safe to use in pregnancy.

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When Should I Be Concerned

When a headache is severe, or just doesnt go away, or when you have dizziness, blurred vision, or changes in your field of vision, you should contact your healthcare provider. Headaches can sometimes be related to blood pressure problems in pregnancy. If they are persistent or severe and happen after 20 weeks of pregnancy, let your healthcare provider know. Although strokes during pregnancy are rare, migraines can increase a pregnant womans risk for them. If you have migraines, report them to your healthcare provider.

Second And Third Trimesters

Pregnancy Tips : How to Treat Headaches During Pregnancy

In the second and third trimesters, a woman may be less likely to experience headaches due to hormonal changes, as the body has usually adjusted to these changes by this stage of pregnancy.

However, some women continue to experience tension headaches from hormonal changes throughout their pregnancy.

In the later stages of pregnancy, symptoms such as headaches are more likely to be due to:

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Common Causes Of Headaches During Pregnancy

Persistent headaches can be prevalent during pregnancy, particularly during the first trimester. If you are experiencing them, you will be looking for possible solutions to help prevent or ease the pain. Below, our headache doctors highlight what causes pregnancy headaches and how you can find relief quickly and safely.

Secondary Headaches During Pregnancy

It is especially important to identify red flags suggesting that headache is a symptom of a serious disease . In these cases, electroencephalography, ophthalmoscopy, ultrasound of the vessels of the head and neck, brain MRI and MR angiography may be needed . In some cases, it is possible to perform multi-slice computed tomography . The risk for the fetus in this case is minimal and the contraindication is the mother allergy to the contrast agent .

Clinically, the most significant causes of the secondary headache in pregnant women are: stroke, subarachnoid hemorrhage, cerebral venous thrombosis, arterial dissection, pituitary tumor, choriocarcinoma, eclampsia, preeclampsia, posterior reversible encephalopathy syndrome, idiopathic intracranial hypertension, and reversible cerebral vasoconstriction syndrome.


To identify the etiology and make a diagnosis of ACA in pregnant women and puerperas, one or more of the following methods can be required: MRI and angiography, computed tomography , MSCT, ophthalmoscopy electrocardiography and echocardiography, daily monitoring of arterial pressure and electrocardiograms, ultrasound examination of extra- and intracranial vessels with duplex scanning, and cerebral angiography .

Subarachnoid hemorrhage

Cerebral venous thrombosis

Arterial dissection

Pituitary tumor


Headache associated with preeclampsia and eclampsia

Posterior reversible encephalopathy syndrome

Primary and secondary intracranial hypertension

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Is It A Headache Or Something Else

It isnt always easy to tell what kind of headache youre having, but the most common types of headaches during pregnancy are tension-type headaches, migraines and cluster headaches.

Tension headaches are the most common kind of headache in pregnant women. It can feel like someone is trying to squish your head like a watermelon. If you carry your stress in your shoulders and neck, you may be more susceptible to this kind of headache.

Migraines are a particular type of headache that occur on one side of the head. For some women, migraines can get worse the first few months and then improve in later stages of pregnancy. For others, they may experience no change, decrease or difference in their migraines.

Cluster headaches are less common but can occur during pregnancy. Youll suddenly have severe pain around your eyes or temples usually about the same time every day.

The good news is that there are plenty of pregnancy-safe things you can do to prevent and relieve the most common pregnancy headaches.

What Can I Take For A Headache While Pregnant

Is Sinus Headache A Symptom Of Pregnancy

It’s always best to talk to your healthcare provider before taking any medicines while you’re pregnant, but when it comes to headache relief, acetaminophen is considered the safest over-the-counter pain reliever to take during pregnancy, if used as directed. Don’t exceed the recommended daily dose, and because acetaminophen may not be safe to take for prolonged periods, take it only as it’s needed.

If your headaches aren’t getting any better, your ob-gyn or midwife may be able to prescribe some other safe options, so talk to them.

If you’re prone to severe migraines, ask your provider which medications you can take. One well-known class of migraine drugs, triptans, have been generally shown to be safe during pregnancy, but you may need to be monitored by a maternal-fetal medicine specialist or a neurologist during your pregnancy if you’re taking them.

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Are You More Tired When Pregnant With A Girl

Yes, there are scientific studies that indicate that pregnant women tend to suffer from more fatigue and nausea if they are carrying a girl as opposed to a boy. According to these studies, girls have a faster heart rate and are more active than boys in the womb, which translates into more heartburn, more headaches, and more trouble sleeping for their mothers. Men, on the other hand, never seem to suffer from any of those things ..

What Do I Do If I Have A Migraine In Pregnancy

If youve never had a migraine call your midwife, doctor or hospital maternity unit. Serious conditions like pre-eclampsia can be like a migraine, so although its unlikely anything is wrong, your healthcare team may want to see you.

If you have always had migraines, you may find that they get better during your pregnancy. But pregnancy can also change the nature of migraines, so if you have a migraine that feels different to what youve had before, call your midwife, doctor or hospital maternity unit.

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When To Call Your Healthcare Provider

Monique Rainford, MD, is board-certified in obstetrics-gynecology, and currently serves as an Assistant Clinical Professor at Yale Medicine. She is the former chief of obstetrics-gynecology at Yale Health.

Headaches are common during pregnancy. While they’re painful, they’re usually nothing to worry about. However, headaches in pregnancy can sometimes be a warning sign of a more serious problem like preeclampsiaa condition that involves high blood pressure.

Here’s what you need to know about the different types of headaches during pregnancy, how to recognize them, and what to do if you think your headache may be a sign of a dangerous complication.

Verywell / Laura Porter

Headaches are classified by what causes them and fall into two categories:

  • Primary headaches, where the pain itself is the only problem
  • Secondary headaches, where the pain is caused by another medical condition

About 40% of pregnant women report having headaches during pregnancy or postpartum . Most are primary headaches and are less worrisome.

However, research suggests that secondary causes of headaches may be more common among pregnant women than was previously thought. One study found that between 25% and 42% of pregnant women seeking treatment had a secondary headache.

During the second and third trimesters, triggers include poor posture, lack of sleep, high blood pressure, and diabetes.

Using Painkillers When Pregnant

Is it normal to get headaches during pregnancy, and what should I do about them?

Some medicines, including painkillers, can harm your baby’s health.

Paracetamol is generally considered safe during pregnancy. Always check the packaging for the correct amount of tablets to take, and how often you may take them.

If you find you need to take paracetamol for more than a couple of days, you may need to speak to your GP.

Ibuprofen is sometimes recommended for headaches during pregnancy. You can only take this at certain times during your pregnancy. Always check with your GP, pharmacist or obstetrician before taking ibuprofen.

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What Causes Headaches During Pregnancy

The primary culprits are pregnancy hormones, though there are many other causes of headaches during every stage of pregnancy. This type of pain can have lots of triggers, which means it can come on at any time. Some common causes:

  • Hormones: Headaches are often an early sign of pregnancy and tend to begin during the first trimester when your hormone levels surge and blood volume increases.
  • Trigger foods: Certain foods like cheese, chocolate, dairy and processed meats like bacon can trigger a headache in any trimester. Women who drink less caffeine in pregnancy may get withdrawal headaches.
  • Sinus congration: If youre suffering from sinus congestion, a runny nose or allergies , a headache may accompany these symptoms.
  • Dehydration: The dehydration that often goes hand in hand with nausea and vomiting can also cause your head to throb.
  • High blood pressure: After week 20 in pregnancy, severe headaches may be related to high blood pressure. This may raise your risk of a number of pregnancy complications such as preeclampsia and premature delivery, so it’s important to talk to your doctor if you notice this symptom.

Other causes can include:

On the bright side, at least for those already prone to migraines: Surging hormones during pregnancy might actually make those less-than-pleasant headaches less frequent.

Is A Headache During Pregnancy Something To Worry About

Pregnancy is a beautiful thing to be celebrated, but few people fill you in on the not-so-great symptoms that may occur during the journey. Namely, heartburn, gas, constipation and, for some pregnant mamas, headaches.

While headaches can be just another normal symptom of pregnancy, should they ever be a cause for concern?

Headaches are common in women both in and outside of pregnancy, said Kelley Saunders, MD, an OBGYN with Banner University Medicine Womens Institute. But whether they are normal or not should always be discussed with your doctor.”

Here is some insight into what causes headaches during pregnancy, some remedies to treat them and why your doctor should be kept in the loop.

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How To Deal With Migraines During Pregnancy

On top of the morning sickness, insomnia, and body pain, the last thing you need to deal with is migraines during pregnancy. But, unfortunately, they are a common ailment those expecting will have to experience.

These painful headaches arent like any other, leaving you debilitated for the rest of the day, or longer. Even after they pass, the fatigue you feel can affect you for days to come.

Like many of the discomforts youll experience while pregnant, there are some ways to prevent migraines, along with some tricks to help them pass quicker.

Well also cover the topic of whether migraines during pregnancy are cause for concern, and justify a doctors visit. Before we get into all that, lets distinguish between a typical headache and a migraine.

How Can I Treat A Headache In Pregnancy

Is Sinus Headache A Symptom Of Pregnancy

If you have a mild headache, its safe to take paracetamol. Make sure you follow the instructions on the packet for how much you can take.

There are some painkillers you should not take while youre pregnant. These include tablets or capsules that:

  • contain added caffeine
  • contain codeine
  • are anti-inflammatory, like ibuprofen or aspirin.

Some women may be advised to take a low dose of aspirin as a treatment if they have had miscarriages before or they are at risk of pre-eclampsia. This will be prescribed by a doctor. Aspirin should not be taken as treatment for a headache.

Try to take the lowest dose of paracetamol that works and for the shortest amount of time. Your midwife, GP or pharmacist can give you more advice if the pain is ongoing and doesnt go away with paracetamol.

Find out more about drugs and medicines in pregnancy.

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