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.
Preventive Or Prophylactic Migraine Medication In Pregnancy
Beta-blockers are an option for preventing migraines in pregnancy. They are mostly used for high blood pressure and have some associated risks for the baby. These include preterm birth and small for dates.
Anti-depressants, such as amitriptyline, can be used to treat headaches in most women during pregnancy. However, as with the beta-blockers, they come with increased risks for the baby, such as breathing problems at birth and having low blood sugar.
Anti-emetics are drugs used to treat nausea and vomiting in pregnant patients. It was discovered they can also relieve pain from a migraine attack.
Does Migraine Affect The Outcome Of Pregnancy
Migraine has long been mentioned as a possible predictor of complications in pregnancy, although because migraine is so common in females systemically establishing a link to complications in pregnancy has been a challenge. Several associations have been proposed, including miscarriage, pre-eclampsia, congenital anomalies, and low birth weight, but these associations remain clouded by a lack of well controlled studies.
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Going To The Toilet A Lot
When youre pregnant, the urge to wee will come over you often, sometimes even leaking out before you get there.
This happens as your body pumps more blood than normal when youre pregnant. That means the kidney processes more fluid than usual, leading to more fluid in your bladder .
In the later stages of pregnancy, youll run to the loo even more often because of the increased pressure of your babys head .
Are Headaches Common In Early Pregnancy
Headaches can happen to anyone during early pregnancy.
Some women dont experience any headaches. Most women, though, will notice they have more frequent headaches during the first trimester.
Headaches can begin as early as 4 weeks of pregnancy. This is when the hormone levels really start to shift.
If youre already prone to having headaches, pregnancy can make this worse.
You might notice your headache appears in a certain area of your head. Or it might travel about, appearing in different places.
Most headaches will be either dull and general, or sharp and throbbing.
Unless its a migraine, a headache wont cause other symptoms.
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How Is A Migraine Treated During Pregnancy
The first trimester generally provides a good idea about whether a woman experiences migraines, as well as the best way to treat them. If a pregnant woman experiences a migraine attack, she should see her physician. Then, this woman and her physician can determine how to address migraine pain.
Preventative migraine medications are typically not recommended for use during pregnancy. These medications sometimes cause nausea and vomiting to worsen during pregnancy. They can also increase a pregnant womans risk of experiencing dehydration.
In one study, researchers indicated pregnant women should first use nondrug therapies to help treat migraine pain. These therapies may include relaxation, sleep and massage, along with the use of ice packs and biofeedback therapy. Following the use of nondrug therapies, pregnant women may consider paracetamol as the initial drug treatment for migraine pain. The risks of using aspirin and ibuprofen to treat migraine pain are usually lower than those associated with other types of migraine medications thus, pregnant women may sometimes use aspirin and ibuprofen to address a migraine attack.
Furthermore, pregnant women may use the antipsychotic medication prochlorperazine to treat nausea associated with a migraine. Research shows that prochlorperazine is unlikely to put a woman in danger during pregnancy and helps alleviate nausea.
Migraines When To Worry
Pregnant women who have high blood pressure might experience severe pain from migraine headaches.
You might have high blood pressure at any time in your pregnancy and it pays to check this at regular intervals throughout your pregnancy.
More common in the second and third trimesters, high blood pressure can be accompanied by flashing lights in the eyes or blurred vision and sternal pain.
Left untreated, it can lead to preeclampsia, as mentioned above. Severe preeclampsia, also called HELLP Syndrome, could be another reason for migraines in pregnancy.
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Headaches In First Weeks Of Pregnancy
The basic triggers of this early sign of pregnancy are dehydration and stress on the body, according to Dr. Diane Christopher, M.D. The hormone progesterone can cause an increase in blood flow that may in turn stress your body.
- Adjusting to the new pregnancy, in itself, can be a challenge to the body. The resultant stress is said to be the cause of headaches.
- Headaches are more common within the first 12 weeks of a pregnancy.
Other than hormonal changes, the fatigue that has been discussed above can also be a source of migraines and headaches.
Occasional headaches may persist later in your term. They are often caused by increased hunger as the baby puts a stain on the body for nutrients. Other causes include emotional and physical stress, sinus congestion etc.
If the headaches persist longer than four hours, see a doctor especially if they are accompanied by other experiences such as puffy face, poor vision or blurred vision, weight gain, etc. Women who usually have migraines are more likely to get headaches during pregnancy.
Try to relax to relieve tension headaches. Spend some time in a dark, quiet room to relieve tension headaches. If they persist, see a doctor.
Should I Go To The Er For Migraine Headaches While Pregnant
If you have a mild headache, you can contact your midwife or doctor for medical advice. They can advise which course of treatment would be best for you for example, taking paracetamol and using any of the remedies suggested above.
If you have a severe persistent headache, however, accompanied by blurry vision, dizziness and swelling in your hands, feet, and face, seek immediate medical attention.
These might be the warning signs of preeclampsia. This condition is often associated with high blood pressure and is dangerous to you and your baby.
You can read more in Preeclampsia | Signs, Symptoms And Causes.
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What Can I Do To Prevent Migraines
One of the best ways to prevent migraines is to recognize what triggers an attack and trying to avoid them. For example, stress, eating certain foods or lack of sleep may bring on an attack.
Avoiding your triggers can be difficult when youre pregnant. For example, if you have morning sickness you may not feel like eating or drinking much. This can cause low blood sugar or dehydration, so its important to try and find ways to cope.
Getting enough sleep may also be difficult during pregnancy. Try our tips for a better nights sleep.
You should also try to
- rest and relax as much as possible. You could try things like mindfulness or yoga.
Ask A Doctor: The Pregnancy Symptoms You Shouldn’t Ignore
While first semester headaches are normal, pregnant women should be more mindful of headaches later in pregnancy. Headaches can be a sign of preeclampsia, a sometimes fatal condition occurring after 20 weeks of pregnancy. Symptoms include high blood pressure, headaches, protein in urine, blurred vision, nausea, vomiting, and pain in the upper right abdomen.
The preeclampsia type of a headache can be on both sides of the head and it seems like it gets worse and worse. And there’s kind of a pulsating feeling, Greves said. “It may not respond to over-the-counter medication.”
For most pregnant women, there is not really a whole lot of harm that a headache is going to cause, but she urges them to talk to their doctors if they have them.
Dont feel bad for discussing a problem with your doctor, she said. That is what we are here for.
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What Are Five Common Signs Of Pregnancy
There are several signs of early pregnancy that you could experience. Not everyone will have all of these symptoms, and some women may not feel any of these things. Pregnancy symptoms throughout the entire pregnancy can vary dramatically between women. Its important not to compare your pregnancy to someone elses.
Common early pregnancy symptoms can include:
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
- back pain
- loin pain
- 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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Nausea And Morning Sickness
Nausea is the feeling of sickness that makes you want to vomit. It is sometimes called feeling queasy in the stomach.
The discomfort occurs in the upper stomach but may not always lead to vomiting. Morning sickness may start to occur as early as the first 3 weeks before a missed period.
- It can get heightened during implantation.
- During implantation, the body produces the hormone human chorionic gonadotropin .
- HCG has been linked with morning sickness and vomiting.
Nausea that is caused by pregnancy can occur any time of the day. It is very common in the morning but it can occur at noon and even in the evenings. Constantly feeling like you want to vomit should start to subside by the second trimester.
Symptoms Of Migraines During Pregnancy
A migraine usually starts out as a dull ache and then eventually becomes a throbbing, constant, and pulsating pain in the temples, in front of the head, or base of the head. Migraines are sometimes accompanied by nausea, sensitivity to light, vomiting, dizziness, and auras, which are spots or lines that can occur across ones vision. The pain can sometimes make it difficult to focus, and symptoms can be debilitating.
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When To Worry About Migraines During Pregnancy
Experiencing a migraine during pregnancy is sometimes problematic. If a pregnant woman understands the warning signs and symptoms of a migraine attack, she can treat her migraine pain properly. Now, lets examine some of the key questions surrounding migraines during pregnancy, and how pregnant women can treat their migraine symptoms.
What Are Symptoms Of Headaches During Pregnancy
If youve had an aching head or migraine before you conceived, you probably know what a bad headache feels like. But its still a good idea to be on the lookout for the common symptoms of headaches during pregnancy, such as:
- Occasional throbbing pain on one or both sides of the head
Migraine headaches, however, can come with worse symptoms, including:
- More severe pain
- Intense pounding in the head
Some women with migraines also experience light and sound sensitivity and they find that the pain worsens if they move or change positions.
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What Migraine Medications Are Safe To Take During Pregnancy
The Food and Drug Administration sorts migraine treatments into various safety categories. The FDA classifies both prescription and non-prescription drugs into various categories based on each medications potential to cause birth defects.Please click here to read the FDAs safety guide when taking medications during pregnancy.
As with any treatment plan, its essential that you consult with a doctor before moving forward. If you are a migraine patient and are expecting a child, make an appointment with your physician to discuss the best course of action.
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.
For more pregnancy guidance and weekly tips tailored to your due date, sign up for our Im Expecting newsletter.
Last medically reviewed on May 6, 2019
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Drugs To Prevent Migraine
If daily medication is considered necessary to prevent migraine during pregnancy, the lowest effective dose of propranolol is the drug of choice.9 Low dose amitriptyline is a safe alternative.9 There are no reports of adverse outcomes from pizotifen used during pregnancy or lactation, although it is less often used than the drugs above.
In contrast, sodium valproate, should not be taken during pregnancy for migraine as there is a high risk of fetal abnormalities. Indeed, women prescribed sodium valproate for migraine must use effective contraception.
Topiramate should not be used for migraine during pregnancy and breastfeeding as there are insufficient data regarding safety.
Safe Migraine Treatment During Pregnancy
Many pregnant women dont like taking medication, as they worry about the effects on their baby. However, migraines can be very intense and it might be wiser to take medication to relieve the pain sooner.
Always talk to your doctor, midwife or pharmacist about safe medications to use for pain relief when you are pregnant. Some of these medications need a prescription others are less likely to be recommended due to potentially harmful side effects.
Paracetamol has been shown to be effective, in the right dosage, for migraine attacks.
Ibuprofen is a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory and is only recommended in the second trimester, as theres a small risk of increased bleeding in the first and third trimesters.
Aspirin is no longer recommended, as its use in pregnancy has been shown to increase the risk of miscarriage, and bleeding in both mothers and babies.
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Headache And Migraine Remedies That Are Safe During Pregnancy
Most women deal with headaches at some point in their lives. Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggest that one in five women had a severe acute headache or migraine in the previous three months. Additionally, migraines are more common in women than men approximately 18 percent of women have them compared to 6.5 percent of men.
Because headaches and migraines are so common, its probably no surprise that many women deal with them during pregnancy. For the majority of pregnant women, occasional headaches or migraines are no cause for alarm, and most standard treatments are safe. However, suffering a severe headache at key times during or after pregnancy can indicate a serious medical emergency.
How Quickly Can I Know If Im Pregnant
Pregnancy is a different experience for each woman. Some women may suspect theyre pregnant within the first few days of pregnancy, while others dont notice anything until they miss a period. There are also some women who dont know theyre pregnant until months after conception.
The most clear-cut way to know if youre pregnant is to take a pregnancy test. When you take a pregnancy test, its measuring a hormone called human chorionic gonadotrophin . This hormone starts building in your body from the moment of conception and will multiply rapidly in the beginning of your pregnancy. Despite its early appearance in the process, it takes some time for your body to build up enough hCG to register on a pregnancy test. Typically, it takes about three to four weeks from the first day of your last period before theres enough hCG in your body for a positive pregnancy test.
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