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Pregnancy Migraines: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatments

Unfortunately, migraines during pregnancy are a fairly common occurrence. If you’ve experienced them recently, you might be wondering about their underlying causes and safe methods of pain relief. Keep reading to find the answers to these questions and more.

A type of vascular headache, migraines produce severe, recurring pain and their exact cause is unknown.

In the event of a vascular headache, the blood vessels in your brain widen and stimulate a pain response. In contrast, tension headaches have more complex origins, generally unrelated to vascular disturbances. 

Most migraine sufferers get one or two headaches a month, while chronic sufferers report having roughly 15 migraine days a month.

Theories on the root cause of migraines vary. Changes in your brain’s nerve pathways could play a significant role. The release of chemicals by your brain cells can irritate blood vessels and sometimes leads to swelling. Estrogen levels must also be taken into account since headache patterns tend to change during menstruation, pregnancy, and menopause.

Though it usually depends on the individual, a commonly reported symptom of migraines is a severe throbbing pain on one side of the head. Migraine pain is capable of interfering with your work and other daily activities. Associated symptoms include nausea, vomiting, and sensitivity to light and sound. You could experience sweating, chills, tiredness, or a loss of appetite. On average, migraine episodes last roughly four hours, but at times, can go on much longer.

Though it usually depends on the individual, a commonly reported symptom of migraines is a severe throbbing pain on one side of the head.

Occasionally, you may even observe subtle warning signs of a migraine such as food cravings, mood changes, or constipation in the days preceding an attack. This pre-migraine stage is called a prodrome. 

In 15–20 percent of migraine sufferers, episodes will be accompanied by visual disturbances known as auras. Flashes and arches of light, combined with blind spots, suddenly appear. Other symptoms include jerking uncontrollably, hearing noises, or having difficulty speaking.

As many as 20 percent of pregnant women report having migraine headaches. Even with no prior history of migraines, you might experience your first attack during pregnancy. 

Interestingly, how often these headaches present during pregnancy varies among people who got migraines before becoming pregnant. While 60–70 percent show noticeable improvement during pregnancy, roughly 5 percent claim their migraines increased in severity.

As many as 20 percent of pregnant women report having migraine headaches. Even with no prior history of migraines, you might experience your first attack during pregnancy.

For people who get fewer migraines, the improvement is possibly related to the absence of monthly menstruation. Migraines which occur right before your period are triggered by a drop in estrogen levels. This may be why for some pregnant women, no menstruation means no migraines.

Fortunately, migraines do not pose any direct danger to your baby. However, certain headache medications might be unsafe. That’s why it’s important to choose pain relief products carefully and to always consult your doctor. 

Additionally, some research suggests that pregnant women with migraines have a higher risk of developing vascular disorders. This includes hypertension and preeclampsia, both of which are more likely after the 20th week of pregnancy. As a result, there’s an increased likelihood of premature birth and low birth weight (for gestational age). 

Fortunately, migraines do not pose any direct danger to your baby. However, certain headache medications might be unsafe. That’s why it’s important to choose pain relief products carefully and to always consult your doctor.

Call your doctor immediately if you notice puffiness in your hands or face, or dramatic weight gain. Also, be on the lookout for severe headaches (which do not respond to medication) and are accompanied by blurred vision, blind spots, or flashes.

Unless your doctor specifically approves it, avoid products containing aspirin or ibuprofen as they could negatively impact you and your baby. In the early stages of pregnancy, ibuprofen may increase your chances of miscarriage. During the third trimester, it can hamper your baby’s heart and lung development. Ibuprofen and other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs also tend to prolong labor and increase the risk of bleeding.

For safe, effective relief of migraines during pregnancy, consider using acetaminophen. In the U.S., 70 percent of pregnant women take acetaminophen. Using it in moderation is considered safe during pregnancy.

Natural remedies for migraines include placing a cold compress on your forehead, lying down in a dark room, and getting as much rest as possible.

However, some studies have reported a link between long-term acetaminophen use and ADHD in babies. So if you suffer from chronic migraines and prefer to steer clear of medications altogether, non-drug treatment options are available.

Natural remedies for migraines include placing a cold compress on your forehead, lying down in a dark room, and getting as much rest as possible. Maintain stable meal and sleep patterns, and try to avoid common triggers. Consider keeping a migraine diary to identify triggers such as emotional stress or eating chocolate or aged cheeses. 

Migraines during pregnancy aren’t a major cause for concern in women with a history of these types of headaches. However, a first-time migraine attack during pregnancy could indicate an underlying health issue and should be discussed with your doctor so they can evaluate your symptoms and rule out other potential causes. Migraines during pregnancy can also signal preeclampsia, a serious complication related to high blood pressure. 

The most important thing to remember is that, in general, migraines do not pose a direct threat to the health and safety of your baby. If you have further questions or concerns about recurring headaches, make an appointment to see your doctor.

https://www.chop.edu/conditions-diseases/migraine-headaches-during-pregnancy

https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/000797.htm

https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/5005-migraine-headaches

https://migraineresearchfoundation.org/about-migraine/migraine-facts/

https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/migraine-headache/symptoms-causes/syc-20360201

https://www.aappublications.org/news/2017/10/30/Acetaminophen103017

https://www.preeclampsia.org/health-information/sign-symptoms

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