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What causes headaches during pregnancy
Headaches during pregnancy | Pregnancy Birth and Baby
Headaches during pregnancy | Pregnancy Birth and Baby beginning of content
Headaches in women can often be triggered by a change in hormones during pregnancy. Expectant mothers may experience an increase or decrease in the number of headaches. Unexplained, frequent headaches later in your pregnancy could be a sign of a more serious condition called pre-eclampsia, so tell your doctor if this is the case.
Causes of headache during pregnancy
Many women experience headaches during pregnancy, especially in the first and third trimesters. If you're pregnant, you may notice an increase in the number of headaches you have at around week 9 of your pregnancy.
As well as hormonal changes, headaches in the early stages of pregnancy can be caused by an increase in the volume of blood your body is producing.
Other causes of headaches during pregnancy can include:
not getting enough sleep
withdrawal from caffeine (e.g. in coffee, tea or cola drinks)
low blood sugar
poor posture, particularly as your baby gets bigger
having depression or anxiety
Migraine is a particular type of headache that mostly occurs on one side of the head – it can be either moderate or very painful. People who experience migraine can also feel sick or vomit, and be sensitive to light or sound.
In pregnancy, migraine may get worse for the first few months, but for many women it can improve in the later stages of their pregnancy when the level of the hormone oestrogen stabilises. Other women may experience no change or a decrease in the number of migraine headaches while pregnant. Some women may experience differences in migraine during different pregnancies.
It’s not advisable for pregnant women with migraine to use migraine medicine. For other headaches it's also recommended that you try to treat your headache without medicine.
You could try:
getting more sleep or rest and relaxation
pregnancy yoga classes or other exercise
practising good posture, particularly later in your pregnancy
eating regular, well-balanced meals
putting a warm facecloth on your eye and nose area, if it is a sinus headache
putting a cold pack on the back of your neck, taking a bath or using a heat pack, if it is a tension headache
neck and shoulders massage
Pregnant women who experience migraine should avoid things that may trigger their migraine. This may include:
monosodium glutamate (MSG)
caffeine (withdrawal from)
bright or flickering lights
computer or movie screens
sudden or excessive exercise
emotional triggers such as arguments or stress
If you do take medicine for your headache or migraine you should check with your doctor, pharmacist or midwife first. Paracetamol, with or without codeine, is generally considered safe for pregnant women to use but you should avoid using other pain medicine such as aspirin or ibuprofen.
When to contact your doctor
If you experience frequent headaches that don't go away with paracetamol, it could be a sign of a more serious medical condition called pre-eclampsia. This usually involves an increase in the pregnant woman's blood pressure and problems with her kidneys. There are also other serious risks for both you and your baby. Pre-eclampsia mostly occurs in the second half of pregnancy.
Contact your doctor, particularly if, along with your headaches, you have a pain below your ribs, feel like you have heartburn, you suddenly swell in your face, hands or feet, or you have problems with your eyesight.
Speak with your doctor or midwife, particularly if you have any concerns about pre-eclampsia
Phone Pregnancy, Birth and Baby on 1800 882 436 to speak with a maternal child health nurse.
For more information about headaches during pregnancy, visit Headache Australia.
For more information about medication during pregnancy, see your doctor or pharmacist, or visit NPS MedicineWise.
Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (Pre-eclampsia and high blood pressure during pregnancy), Headache Australia (Migraine), Women's and Children's Health Network (Medicines during pregnancy), Headache Australia (Adults and headache), Headache Australia (Migraine – A common and distressing disorder), Raising Children Network (9 weeks pregnant), Raising Children Network (34 weeks pregnant), Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (Perinatal Anxiety and Depression), American Pregnancy Association (Pregnancy and Headaches), NPS Medicinewise (Taking medicines in pregnancy), Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (Is paracetamol safe to use in pregnancy?)
Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.
Last reviewed: May 2020
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Common discomforts during pregnancy
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Headache during pregnancy: Causes, symptoms, and treatments
Experiencing a headache during pregnancy is common and not usually a cause for concern. Home remedies can often help soothe the pain.
Pregnancy causes several significant changes in the body, many of which can give rise to individual symptoms. Changes in hormones and blood volume, as well as poor posture due to increased body weight, are all common factors.
Some of these changes can also result in headaches, for which a range of home remedies are available. However, anyone experiencing troubling or severe symptoms should seek medical treatment. A doctor can usually determine the specific cause.
In this article, we discuss the causes, symptoms, and treatment of headaches during pregnancy.
The female body experiences several quick and drastic changes during pregnancy, which may lead to a few different symptoms. Headaches are a common symptom during pregnancy.
Research suggests that 39% of women will experience headaches during or just after pregnancy.
The exact cause of a headache during pregnancy may vary based on the trimester.
The following sections will discuss some likely causes of headaches during pregnancy, some of which are more common in certain trimesters.
During the first trimester of pregnancy, a woman’s body goes through several drastic changes in a short space of time. The body experiences a large influx of hormones, along with an increase in the amount of blood. Rapid weight gain may also occur.
Together, these changes may make certain types of headache, such as tension headaches, more likely. Some other pregnancy symptoms may also influence these headaches or make them worse.
Common issues that could cause or worsen a headache include:
nausea and vomiting
high stress levels
low blood sugar
lack of sleep
changes in vision
light sensitivity, which may trigger migraine
a sedentary lifestyle
Additionally, a pregnant woman may have some trigger foods that cause irritation or symptoms such as headaches. These trigger foods may vary among individuals, but some common culprits include dairy products and chocolate.
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:
high blood pressure
Hypertension during pregnancy
Hypertension, or high blood pressure, is a common experience for many pregnant women. Some will experience a condition called preeclampsia, which occurs when someone who usually has normal blood pressure levels suddenly develops high blood pressure after 20 weeks of pregnancy.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate that 1 in 25 pregnant women in the United States will develop preeclampsia. Preeclampsia increases the risk of many medical emergencies, including seizures and stroke. The condition may also reduce the oxygen flow to the fetus.
A common symptom of preeclampsia is a headache that will not go away. Some other symptoms include:
changes in vision, such as blurred vision or seeing spots
nausea or vomiting
sudden weight gain
pain in the upper stomach or abdomen
swelling in the face or hands
These symptoms do not occur in every case of preeclampsia, which is one of the reasons why it is important to check in regularly with a doctor throughout pregnancy.
Headaches during pregnancy can manifest in various ways. For example, they can cause different types and levels of pain.
Medically speaking, headaches are either primary or secondary. Primary headaches are not a symptom of a health condition, whereas secondary headaches occur when an underlying condition is the cause. Secondary headaches usually lead to a number of other symptoms.
The sections below will discuss several types of headache that are common during pregnancy.
Tension headaches are the most common type of headache during pregnancy. In fact, a 2017 review in the Journal of Headache and Pain notes that 26% of all headaches that occur during pregnancy are tension headaches.
Tension headaches cause mild-to-moderate pain in the head. Many people describe the pain as feeling as though they have a tight band around their head.
Migraine headaches may also occur during pregnancy. According to estimates, migraine headaches without aura occur in up to 10% of pregnant women.
A migraine headache often begins as a dull ache that grows into a piercing, throbbing pain, which may or may not radiate. A person may also be very sensitive to light, noise, and some smells. Migraine episodes might also cause other symptoms, such as dizziness or nausea.
Cluster headaches are rarer than other types, occurring in an estimated 0.3% of all pregnancies.
Cluster headaches cause a severe “stabbing” pain, typically on one side of the head and around the eye. A person may also notice some other symptoms, such as nasal congestion, watery eyes, or swelling in the area.
In many cases, home remedies can help soothe a primary headache during pregnancy. Some home remedies that may be effective include:
applying a cold or warm compress to the area for 10 minutes at a time
taking a warm bath to release muscle tension
doing mild exercises, such as yoga, swimming, or tai chi
sitting or standing with better posture
taking frequent breaks away from screens
drinking plenty of water throughout the day
getting plenty of rest
getting a gentle head massage
resting in a dark area
Keeping a food journal to track what they eat each day may also help a woman identify and eliminate any headache triggers.
If possible, pregnant women should aim to manage any unpleasant symptoms with home remedies or talk to their doctor about medical options, if necessary.
What to avoid
During pregnancy, it is essential to avoid over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen (Advil) or aspirin.
A review in the Annals of Epidemiology notes that women who take NSAIDs while pregnant are more likely to give birth to babies with congenital abnormalities.
Some women take acetaminophen (Tylenol) while pregnant, although there is a concern that this may also affect the baby.
A recent study in the journal JAMA Psychiatry found that children born to women who take acetaminophen during pregnancy are more likely to be autistic or have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
However, there is a need for more research into this connection before health experts can make any broad claims. Many people still view acetaminophen as the safest drug choice for women during pregnancy.
Although headaches during pregnancy are common, it may sometimes be necessary to see a doctor.
Anyone experiencing severe or continuous headaches that do not respond to home remedies should schedule an appointment with their doctor.
Similarly, anyone experiencing other troubling symptoms — such as dizziness or changes in vision — should seek diagnosis and treatment. A doctor may be able to recommend a treatment that is safe for both the woman and the fetus.
Headaches during pregnancy can be uncomfortable, but they are not usually a cause for concern.
Pregnancy causes a number of significant changes within the body, which may lead to symptoms such as headaches. However, it is important to find treatments that are safe for the fetus.
Secondary headaches that occur due to an underlying issue may be dangerous. Anyone who is uncertain about their symptoms or experiences troubling or severe symptoms should see a doctor for diagnosis and treatment.
Migraine during pregnancy: what to do
Migraine is a benign disease, it does not affect the course of pregnancy and fetal development. However, migraine and pregnancy is a combination that requires a responsible attitude. Especially with frequent migraines (more than 2 times a week) and migraines with aura, as:
medicines approved for use, few,
and the approach to the treatment and prevention of migraine during this period is extremely individual: it depends on the frequency, severity and duration of headache, the degree of impact on life.
Our neurologist Daria Korobkova conducted a live broadcast on the clinic's Instagram account, where she told how migraine and pregnancy are connected, why attacks become more frequent or disappear, and answered subscribers' questions. The ether was saved, see “Air recording: migraine during pregnancy and GV.
We will tell about migraine during breastfeeding separately.
The statistics of clinical observations of migraine during pregnancy looks like this:
In 60-70% of pregnant women with migraine, headache attacks become less frequent, milder, or even completely disappear in the second and third trimesters. This is due to the stabilization of estrogen levels. By the beginning of the second trimester, it rises 6 times and its fluctuations stop.
In other women, migraine during pregnancy either remains unchanged or worsens. But as the duration of pregnancy increases, the proportion of such women gradually decreases:
If at the end of the first trimester the frequency and intensity of attacks persist, then it is most likely that migraine will disturb the woman throughout the entire period of pregnancy and after childbirth too.
How to manage migraine during pregnancy?
The main thing here is to learn how to control seizures and, if necessary, seek medical help.
Follow lifestyle advice:
get enough sleep;
drink enough fluids;
eat fractionally and without long breaks;
avoid stressful situations. This is one of the main provocateurs of migraine. Psychotherapy, relaxation and stress management are here to help you.
Keep a headache diary. This will help you take control of migraine triggers.
Yes, these simple recommendations are sometimes enough to make seizures less frequent! Pregnancy is a special state of a woman. If in other periods of life we do not take such recommendations so seriously, then in this situation it is worth trying to change the philosophy of life and attitude towards ourselves =)
How to relieve an attack?
Favor non-drug methods. Sometimes, in order to relieve an attack, it is enough to eliminate an unfavorable factor:
dry biscuits, ginger, or applesauce may help with nausea;
for dehydration - diluted juice or other liquid;
sleep, walking or breathing exercises can also help to cope;
If the attacks are severe, interfering with your life, then under the supervision of a specialist, you can resort to drug therapy.
PARACETAMOL is considered the safest and can be taken throughout pregnancy.
All other drugs have nuances. For example:
ibuprofen can be taken in the second trimester, and in the first trimester it is better to limit, in the third trimester the drug is contraindicated for use;
aspirin is prohibited in the 3rd trimester and is undesirable for taking in the first two, as it can cause extremely undesirable consequences;
It is strictly forbidden to use ergotamine and opioid analgesics;
triptans are not officially approved for use during pregnancy as no controlled studies have been conducted. However, clinical observations of women around the world who took them on their own showed no adverse effects on the fetus. We discussed this issue in more detail on the air.
!Other than paracetamol, we do not recommend the use of any drug without a doctor's prescription.
When to see a doctor:
migraine occurred for the first time during pregnancy;
if migraine attacks suddenly become more frequent and stronger;
if the aura became longer or appeared for the first time;
if the headache is rapidly increasing and has an unusual character;
if the pressure rises during the headache.
Follow our Instagram to read the latest materials on the diagnosis and treatment of headaches!
cluster headache. Rare but painful Holidays without headaches. Real holidays Something about osteochondrosis. An excerpt from the book of Kirill Skorobogatykh.
Headache during pregnancy: where does it come from and how to get rid of it
When to call an ambulance
Urgently dial 103 or 112 if you have Clinical guidelines for the diagnosis and treatment of tension headache the following symptoms:
sudden and severe headache;
consciousness Preeclampsia becomes confused or lost altogether;
pain worsens over 5 minutes;
flies, spots flash in the eyes;
throbbing and noisy in the ears;
speech has become slurred, words are drawn out;
arms and legs weaken, convulsions set in;
severe neck stiffness Meningitis, chin cannot reach chest;
fever ALGORITHMS for providing emergency medical care outside a medical organization 39°C and above;
increased heart rate at rest;
severe shortness of breath;
the child pushes without stopping or stops abruptly;
leaking High blood pressure and pregnancy: Know the facts of water or blood;
lower abdomen hurts, as if contractions had begun.
Why pregnant women can get headaches
Pregnancy headaches are not always life threatening. But the doctor needs to be told about it in any case. If the symptom appeared for the first time and does not hurt much, postpone the conversation until a scheduled visit. If your headache is recurring or gets worse, it's best to make an appointment as soon as possible. The gynecologist will decide what needs to be done or refer you to another doctor.
There are many causes of headaches. Scientists have found Characteristics and diagnoses of acute headache in pregnant women — a retrospective cross‑sectional study that in pregnant women in 57% of cases it is primary, that is, not associated with other diseases. The most common are migraines and tension headaches.
Everything else is a secondary headache caused by various pathologies. Usually it is high blood pressure and infections. But there are more dangerous reasons.
1. Stress and fatigue
A pregnant woman's body experiences increased stress, because it has to work for two. If at the same time the expectant mother is exposed to stress, strong feelings or sleeps little, she gets Clinical guidelines for the diagnosis and treatment of tension headache tension headache.
Discomfort lasts from 30 minutes to several days. The head hurts in the forehead, occiput, both temples. But there is no feeling that they put on a tight hoop or helmet. The pain does not get worse when bending over, walking, or climbing stairs, bright lights, or sounds.
What to do
Tension headache can go away on its own: enough Clinical practice guidelines for the diagnosis and treatment of tension headache get some fresh air or sleep. Sometimes pleasant emotions help, which distract from experiences.
If the pain persists for 2-3 consecutive days, see a doctor. He will select painkillers that are safe for the child.
Any medicine that enters the stomach or bloodstream can cause headaches even if the dosage is correct. In pregnant women, this often occurs due to drugs for high blood pressure, heart disease, antibiotics, anticonvulsants.
Long-term use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs for headaches may cause Clinical guidelines for the diagnosis and treatment of tension headaches have the opposite effect: the pills do not remove, but provoke symptoms.
What to do
If your head hurts a few hours after taking the medicine, you need to see a doctor to change the medicine. Do not drink non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs for more than 3-5 days. If they do not help, you need to tell the doctor about it.
3. Love or avoidance of coffee
Headache during pregnancy may be caused by coffee Drug-induced headache: management. Unpleasant symptoms occur if you drink more than 3-4 cups a day.
Abrupt refusal of coffee is also harmful. It is worth finding out about pregnancy and stop brewing a fragrant drink, and after 1-2 days Caffeine-withdrawal headache will appear in the temples and the back of the head. The Vågå study of headache epidemiology aching pain.
What to do
Coffee is better Caffeine and adaptive changes in the circulatory system during pregnancy stop during pregnancy. If a headache occurs a day after this, you can drink a small cup of the drink and wait a day again. Gradually, the dependence on coffee will pass.
Coffee drinkers can Caffeine reduce their drink intake to 1-2 cups per day.
4. Infection with fever
Acute viral (usually ARVI) or bacterial (eg, streptococcal tonsillitis) infections cause fever and headache. This is a normal reaction to foreign microorganisms.
But any infection is dangerous for pregnant women The role of infection in miscarriage. It can cause fetal defects, growth retardation and even miscarriage. And with meningitis, especially listeriosis, there is a threat to the life of the mother.
What to do
If you have a headache with fever, call your doctor. He will prescribe safe medications or give you a referral to the hospital if a severe infection is suspected. In this case, Meningitis needs strong antibiotics, drips to maintain the body and sometimes hormones.
5. Preeclampsia and preeclampsia
After 20 weeks, preeclampsia may develop in pregnant women. This disease is GESTOSIS: THEORY AND PRACTICE, in which one of three symptoms or a combination of them may appear: high blood pressure, edema and protein in the urine.
Without proper treatment, gestosis turns into preeclampsia Preeclampsia. The pressure rises sharply, the head and lower abdomen hurt unbearably, the baby pushes unusually hard or, on the contrary, suddenly subsides Placental abruption. Preeclampsia can lead to placental abruption, damage to the liver and other organs, bleeding, and even seizures. Without urgent medical care, the fetus and mother die.
What to do
When the first signs of preeclampsia appear, the pregnant woman is hospitalized to find treatment. After that, she is discharged home under the supervision of her gynecologist.
But if her health worsens, the doctor again sends the woman to the Preeclampsia hospital, where she is prescribed drugs to reduce pressure, special drips to keep her body functioning. If improvement does not occur within a day, a caesarean section is performed.
One of the causes of migraine Migraine is a change in estrogen levels. But the disease very rarely appears due to pregnancy. On the contrary, in 70% of women the symptoms subside dramatically Migraine and pregnancy: a particular example of the course of the disease after conception. And yet migraine torments Migraine many.
It may begin with an aura: flashes of light, spots before the eyes, tingling in the hands or numbness of half of the face, sometimes tinnitus. Each symptom can last from 20 minutes to an hour.
A migraine attack develops after the aura. In this case, one side of the head hurts and throbs, nausea or vomiting appears. A woman is irritated by bright lights, loud noises, smells. They make the pain worse.
Seizures last from a few hours to a week or more. After a migraine, there is a feeling of severe fatigue, exhaustion, and an awkward turn of the head can return the pain.
What to do
Any medication for migraine during pregnancy must be prescribed by a doctor. In some cases drugs are used Headache in Pregnancy and the Puerperium from the group of beta-blockers.
Studies have shown Migraine and pregnancy: a particular example of the course of the disease, that often migraine in pregnant women is associated with a lack of magnesium. The doctor will help you choose the appropriate type of vitamin and mineral complex and its dosage.
7. Cerebrovascular disease
Hormone problems in some pregnant women increase blood clotting, which increases the risk of Headache and pregnancy: a systematic review of thrombosis, stroke, or meningeal hemorrhage. These conditions are very dangerous: a woman can die within a few minutes or remain disabled.
Vascular involvement is always accompanied by several symptoms:
severe headache on one side;
nausea and vomiting;
loss of consciousness;
What to do
Urgently call an ambulance. The pregnant woman must be laid or seated so that she does not hit when she falls. You can't give medicine! You can only open the window so that there is more air in the room.
What treatment will prescribe Headache and pregnancy: a systematic review by a physician, depends on the specific disease. These can be drugs that reduce blood clotting and dissolve blood clots. In some cases, urgent surgery is needed.
8. Brain Tumors
Studies show that progesterone and estrogen during pregnancy may cause or accelerate the growth of brain tumors. Symptoms of the disease appear slowly, over several months, and depend on the size and location of the tumor.
Headache may gradually increase Brain tumor, then vision, speech, hearing deteriorate, limbs go numb and convulsions appear. Sometimes it is difficult for a woman to keep her balance.
What to do
If a pregnant woman often has a headache or she forgets what she wanted to buy in the store and how to cook her favorite borscht, confuses her way home, you need to go to a neurologist. First, he will prescribe standard treatment, simple and safe medicines, rest, good sleep.
If this does not help, the symptoms do not disappear or worsen, a deep examination is needed Brain tumor. The pregnant woman will be sent for an MRI of the brain. This procedure is safe for the fetus. If the diagnosis is confirmed, surgery may be required.
What to do if the doctor cannot find the cause of the pain
If you have been examined and the doctor cannot tell you why your head hurts and diagnoses you with vascular dystonia, this is a reason to be wary. There is no such disease.
Look for another doctor. Perhaps he uses new diagnostic methods that will help to deal with the problem and choose a treatment.
How to avoid headaches during pregnancy
Experts recommend What can I do about headaches during pregnancy? I'd rather not take medication. next:
Avoid triggers. For example, if you notice that certain foods, smells, or situations cause headaches, try not to encounter them.
Protect yourself from stress, do not worry about trifles.
Move more. During pregnancy, walk every day in the fresh air and do special exercises for expectant mothers.
Correct Pregnancy nutrition: Healthy‑eating basics to eat. Try to eat a lot of vegetables and fruits, dairy products, drink at least 2.4 liters of liquid. Every day, the menu should include fish, poultry or lean meat. And it is better not to buy sweet, fast food and other junk food.
Observe Working during pregnancy: Do’s and don’ts daily routine. You need to sleep at least 8 hours a day and go to bed no later than 22-23 hours in order for melatonin to be produced normally.