Headaches In Early Pregnancy
Nearly all women have occasional headaches, but having a headache in pregnancy is not fun. And, managing headaches is especially tricky in the first trimester when you should avoid many medicines. Whether your headache is from tension or is a full-blown migraine, there are some things you should know.
What Can I Do During Pregnancy To Decrease The Chance Ill Get A Migraine
Since so many migraine treatments are off the table while pregnant, it might feel like your arsenal is running low.
With fewer medications to turn to, lifestyle changes can make a huge difference in keeping your migraines under control while youâre pregnant.
Dr. Crystal recommends:
- Avoiding your known migraine triggers
- Dental evaluation for a night guard, if necessary
- Eating frequent, small meals
- Getting good sleep, and enough of it
- Physical therapy for neck pain and muscle spasms
- Prenatal massage
- Reducing stress as much as possible, and exploring techniques for managing stress
Medication For Tension Headaches
Pregnant women need to be cautious when taking painkillers for headaches during pregnancy. This is because some medications can cross the placenta and cause potential harm to a growing baby. For this reason, it’s a good idea to consult with a doctor before taking pain medication, even if the medicine is bought over-the-counter.Paracetamol is safe for most women to take in pregnancy as long as they stay within the recommended daily dose. Anti-inflammatory medications are not usually recommended for use during pregnancy. Some women may be told by their doctors to take aspirin while they are pregnant. However, this is not suitable for every women. For this reason, aspirin should only be used for headaches in pregnancy if it’s been specially prescribed. A doctor may prescribe other types of painkillers if the woman’s headaches are severe or very frequent.
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What Are Migraine Headaches
Vascular headaches, a group that includes migraine, are thought to involve abnormal function of the brain’s blood vessels or vascular system. The most common type of vascular headache is a migraine. Migraine headaches are usually characterized by the following:
Severe pain on one or both sides of the head
Nausea and/or vomiting
Disturbed vision and intolerance to light
People who get migraine headaches seem to have blood vessels that overreact to various triggers, which may include the following:
Stress and other emotions
Why Does My Head Hurt
Women often experience tension headaches during the first trimester. It’s most likely because of fluctuations in hormones, says Sheena Aurora, M.D., director of the Swedish Headache Center, in Seattle. By the second trimester, she says, the pain subsides because the hormones are steadily high.
Of course, there are many other possible reasons for your throbbing head. Ask yourself, ‘Are my headaches being stimulated by something in my diet?’ says Lillian Schapiro, M.D., an OB-GYN in Atlanta. ‘What medications am I taking? What time of day are they happening? Is there anything I can change?’
In the third trimester, when you’re carrying a lot of additional weight, consider whether poor posture might be a factor in your headaches. The strain on your neck and shoulders could lead to muscle spasms, which can irritate nerves in the back of your head. Or you might develop muscle tightening and spasms from sleeping with your head in an unnatural position.
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Natural Remedies For Headaches During Pregnancy
Claudia Chaves, MD, is board-certified in cerebrovascular disease and neurology with a subspecialty certification in vascular neurology. She is an associate professor of neurology at Tufts Medical School and medical director of the Lahey Clinic Multiple Sclerosis Center in Lexington, Massachusetts.
Many women are hesitant to take medications during pregnancy especially during the first trimester when their baby’s organs are developing. So finding natural remedies for headaches in pregnancy can be a lifesaver.
Let’s explore some natural remedies for both treating and preventing headaches during pregnancy.
Here are a few ideas from the American Pregnancy Association:
- For a sinus headache, apply a warm compress around your eyes and nose.
- For a tension headache, use a cold compress or ice pack at the base of your neck.
- Eat smaller, more frequent meals to maintain your blood sugar. This may even help prevent headaches.
- Get a massage, especially around your shoulders and neck.
- Rest in a dark room.
- Practice deep breathing.
- Take a warm shower or bath.
- Use good posture, especially in the third trimester
How Are Migraine Headaches Managed In Pregnancy
If a woman has a history of migraine headaches, and there are no other health problems, migraines during pregnancy are not usually a concern. However, if a first-time migraine-like headache occurs in pregnancy, it is important to rule out any other type of condition that may be dangerous, such as bleeding in the brain, meningitis , or tumors. Further testing may be needed to determine the cause of the headache.
Treatment of migraines in pregnancy may include soothing and nondrug measures, such as cold packs, a darkened room, and sleep. Avoiding triggers, such as certain foods and stress, may also be helpful. Medications must be carefully chosen because many drugs pass through the placenta to the developing fetus. Small doses of caffeine and acetaminophen are generally safe, but only as advised by your doctor. Avoid nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. Drugs that can be used include acetaminophen, promethazine, and opioid pain relievers, such as morphine. However, limit the use of opioid pain relievers because of the potential for addiction of the mother and baby. Consult your doctor for more specific information regarding treatment for migraines during pregnancy.
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When To Call The Doctor About Headaches During Pregnancy
Many women, even those who haven’t previously experienced a lot of everyday headaches, will get them during pregnancy. The vast majority of pregnancy headaches are primary meaning your head hurts, but theres nothing serious or anything to worry about.
But if your headaches persist for more than two or three hours or you have other symptoms , let your practitioner know right away.
In rare cases, so-called secondary headaches signal something else going on in your body, such as hypertension or risk factors for preeclampsia, and youll want to make sure you get both the headaches and the underlying conditions taken care of ASAP.
From the What to Expect editorial team and Heidi Murkoff, author of What to Expect When You’re Expecting. What to Expect follows strict reporting guidelines and uses only credible sources, such as peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions and highly respected health organizations. Learn how we keep our content accurate and up-to-date by reading our medical review and editorial policy.
Causes Of Migraine Headaches
Researchers believe that overly excited brain cells stimulate a release of chemicals. These chemicals irritate blood vessels on the brain‘s surface. That, in turn, causes blood vessels to swell and stimulate the pain response.
The neurotransmitter serotonin also appears to have a key role in migraines.
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The Headache Of Dealing With A Migraine During Pregnancy
I cant get rid of it fast enough! Caroline was 5 months pregnant and at her wits end when she contacted MotherToBaby. My migraine is so bad that I can barely get out of bed, but I feel like theres nothing I can do about it since Im pregnant. I dont want to harm the baby! We often get questions like Carolines from people planning a pregnancy or already pregnant who would like information on the prevention and treatment of migraine headaches, so I start by asking Caroline what she would have used if she werent pregnant. Caroline told me that she would have taken ibuprofen and or sumatriptan.
Migraine preventions and treatments fall into three basic categories:
Tracking Triggers With A Migraine Diary
Hormone changes during pregnancy are not the only thing that can trigger migraine headaches. Most women have a combination of triggers. For instance, stress, skipped meals, and lack of sleep may all trigger a migraine. And something that triggers a migraine one day may not bother you at all the next.
Some migraines last a few hours. Others, if left untreated, could last a couple of days. Migraines are quite unpredictable. So while pregnancy may make them worse for one woman, they might completely disappear for another.
A headache diary can let you track your particular triggers. This will help your doctor decide on what treatment will work best to relieve your specific symptoms. It may also help you recognize a pattern that tells you which triggers to avoid while you’re pregnant.
Each time you have a headache, write down:
- Your specific symptoms: where you feel the pain, what the pain feels like, and any other symptoms such as vomiting or sensitivity to noise, smells, or bright light
- The time your headache started and ended
- Food and beverages you had during the 24 hours before the migraine
- Any change in your environment, such as traveling to a new place, a change in weather, or trying new kinds of food
- Any treatment you tried, and whether it helped or made the headache worse
- Foods that contain the preservatives MSG and nitrates
- Aspartame, the sweetener in NutraSweet and Equal
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Are Daily Headaches Normal
Most people have headaches from time to time. But if you have a headache more days than not, you might have chronic daily headaches. Rather than a specific headache type, chronic daily headaches include a variety of headache subtypes. Chronic refers to how often the headaches occur and how long the condition lasts.
The First Three Months Of Pregnancy
During the first three months the symptoms of pregnancy can make your migraine worse. Morning sickness can mean that you feel like eating and drinking less which can cause low blood sugar and dehydration. If you are not careful this can make your migraines worse. You should try to eat small frequent meals and drink frequent small amounts of water to prevent this. You will also be helping reduce any pregnancy sickness.
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When To See Your Doctor
Headaches in pregnant people are particularly concerning during the third trimester, when risk for preeclampsia rises.
If you experience vision changes or seeing spots, call your doctor immediately as this is a sign of preeclampsia.
To diagnose preeclampsia, doctors will check for elevated blood pressure and may conduct a follow-up urine analysis.
If preeclampsia is ruled out, and your headache persists and is not responding to treatment especially Tylenol its still important to talk with a doctor to identify the root cause.
After youve figured out the cause, your doctor might recommend medication, like a combination of Benadryl and Reglan to treat headaches. If your doctor says the medication is safe, take it, Columbo says.
Dont make yourself suffer needlessly, he says.
When Should I Call My Doctor
Whether you experience headaches or not, its always important to discuss your pre-pregnancy history, obstetrical history and concerns with your doctor for an individualized assessment and management plan. However, if none of the above treatments resolve your mild headache or your headaches become more frequent and severe, talk to your doctor to determine the cause.
This includes new headaches that present after 20 weeks, a sudden onset of severe headaches, headaches associated with a fever, mental health changes, elevated blood pressure and vision changes, Dr. Saunders said. Its important to keep an open line of communication with your physician and let them know about any changes in your health so they can rule out anything serious.
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Safe Effective Migraine Treatments For Pregnant Moms
Women are more likely than men to get migraines, and nearly one in four of us will have at least one in our lifetime.
If you’re like me and have had migraines for years, you probably already avoid certain foods and situations that can trigger migraines, such as:
- Artificial sweeteners
- Weather changes
Avoiding triggers can be difficult, especially since we all have stress in our lives. My main triggers are stress, artificial sweeteners, MSG, and cheese that last one is toughest for me! But it’s worth it to reduce the risk of a migraine that wipes me out all day.
If you don’t know your triggers yet, keep a migraine journal. Write down what you ate, where you were, and what you were doing when your symptoms began. After a month or so, you might see a pattern emerge.
If you avoid triggers and still get frequent migraines, you might benefit from medication.
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.
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Frequent Question: What Is Safe To Take For Migraine During Pregnancy
Most pregnant women can safely take acetaminophen to treat occasional headaches. Your health care provider might recommend other medications as well. Make sure you have the OK from your health care provider before taking any medication, including herbal treatments.
How To Treat Migraines When Naturally Doesnt Work
Sometimes, a migraine might continue to plague you, even after you have tried the above remedies. If the pain persists, you can take Tylenol however, it is important to avoid Aspirin and Ibuprofen. These are not safe to take during pregnancy. If the migraines become a constant nuisance, you may want to talk to your doctor about alternative medications that are safe to take during pregnancy. You can learn more about which medications are safe during pregnancy here.
If you currently take pain medication for migraines, it is best to discuss with your doctor whether it is safe to continue using. It is best to avoid using any herbal remedies to alleviate migraines during pregnancy, as many have not been tested, and some have been shown to lead to complications.
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Second And Third Trimesters
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:
- excess weight
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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:
- Low blood sugar levels
- Physical or emotional stress
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.
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Outlook For Headache During Pregnancy
Headache pain during pregnancy is common. You may have tension headaches during your first trimester of pregnancy. This may happen because of the many changes that youre going through in a short period.
Headache pain may happen in the second and third period of your pregnancy for other reasons. Some causes of headaches in your mid to late pregnancy may be serious.
High blood pressure is a serious cause of headache pain during pregnancy. You can have high blood pressure at any time in your pregnancy. You may not have any symptoms at all. Check your blood pressure at least once a day with a home monitor.
Tell your doctor if you have headaches at any time in your pregnancy. Let your doctor know right away if you have a personal or family history of migraine, high blood pressure, seizures or diabetes.
Take all medications and treatment exactly as prescribed by your doctor. Follow all diet and exercise advice carefully. See your doctor for all follow-up and regular check-ups. Most causes of headaches during pregnancy are treatable or preventable with the right care.
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Last medically reviewed on May 6, 2019