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Pregnant Women and Migraines

HIGHLIGHTS:

  • Pregnant women may experience recurring headaches. Sometimes these may be a result of migraines, although they could also indicate other, more serious health conditions such as preeclampsia.
  • During pregnancy some painkillers, especially NSAIDs, should be avoided due to their impact on uterine contractions.

 

Pregnant Women and Migraines

Migraines are headaches that are much more severe than regular headaches, and affect either one side (usually the same side each time) or both sides of the head. Migraines may occur frequently, with or without prior signs. They can be triggered by light, sound and smell and are always followed by nausea and/or vomiting.

Migraines can affect people of any age, from infants to the elderly. Genetics, stress, sex hormones, congenital health disorders and prolonged exposure to some medications can contribute to migraine. Females are up to 3 times more likely to suffer migraines than their male counterparts. When migraines occur during pregnancy, it is important for the woman involved to make sure she undergoes screening and diagnosis for her condition.

Causes of migraines in pregnant women

Pregnant women may experience headaches at any time, some of which may be migraine headaches. These headaches could also be a sign that a woman is suffering from a more serious health condition, with preeclampsia being especially dangerous. Therefore, women should try to deepen their understanding of the causes behind migraines and other types of headaches:

  • Hormonal changes that occur during the 1st trimester of a pregnancy can result in headaches. These tend to disappear by the 2nd trimester as hormone levels stabilize and the body adjusts to these changes.
  • Incorrect posture when sitting or standing can lead to headaches, particularly during the 3rd trimester when the pregnancy is at its largest and impacts various muscle groups that are responsible for carrying the extra load. A migraine could also result from a pregnant woman taking up the wrong posture.  Should any irregularities arise when experiencing a migraine during this time of pregnancy, an urgent visit to the doctor is essential as it may signify other related health conditions such as high blood pressure or preeclampsia.
  • Nutrient deficiencies and hunger can lead to headaches. A fear of putting on too much weight leads some women to skip meals and suffer nutrient deficiencies.
  • Not getting enough rest due to difficulties in finding a comfortable sleeping position or discomfort throughout the night is a common cause of headaches during pregnancy.
  • Giving up tea and coffee can lead to headaches, resulting from the body not receiving its regular dose of caffeine.
  • Stress and anxiety are directly connected to the onset of headaches.
  • Dehydration is another factor to watch out for. Some pregnant women want to avoid visiting the bathroom frequently, so they attempt to resolve the issue by drinking less liquid than required, leading to dehydration and headaches.

Warning signs that should precipitate a doctor’s visit

Migraines occurring during the 2nd and 3rd trimesters may be a sign of an underlying health disorder, which could place both baby and mother at risk. This is especially true for preeclampsia, high blood pressure or irregularities affecting the kidneys and liver. Medical attention should be sought immediately if a pregnant woman experiences a severe headache that does not go away despite taking painkillers such as paracetamol, or alongside the following symptoms:

  • A severe headache that comes all of a sudden
  • Fever and stiff neck
  • Vision issues, including blurred vision
  • Heartburn, dizziness and nausea
  • A sudden increase in body weight
  • Swelling affecting the hands or face

Treating migraines for pregnancy

Women tend to avoid taking any medication during pregnancy, but if they are suffering from a migraine there are some painkillers that may help, including paracetamol, which can be taken alongside the application of a cold compress, a head massage, rest, or listening to some relaxing music. However, be sure to consult your doctor before taking stronger medications as some drugs may result in uterine contractions that can lead to a premature birth or other contraction-related irregularities.

Preventing migraines during a pregnancy

  • Avoid foods and drinks that can stimulate the onset of a migraine, including MSG flavoring, artificial sugars, cheese, wine, chocolate, tea and coffee.
  • Drink plenty of water.
  • Get enough sleep, and if you are unable to get the right amount of sleep during the night try to find an appropriate time during the day to take a short nap.
  • When a migraine occurs, find a quiet, dark room in which to rest.
  • Use a cold compress, such as ice wrapped in a hand towel, and apply it to the affected area.
  • Do not buy your own medication for headaches or migraines without first consulting your doctor, who can recommend appropriate drugs and check whether you or your child is at risk.
  • Eat a healthy, balanced diet and never try to lose weight during a pregnancy.

Headaches have the potential to cause a small amount of suffering for people of any age or gender, but migraines are often so severe that they can increase that suffering to almost unbearable levels. Being aware of how to prevent headaches, while self-diagnosing any danger and staying on the lookout for tell-tale signs, will give you the best chance of seeking prompt medical attention that will help you effectively manage your pain.


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