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Headaches During Pregnancy: Should I Worry?

Updated on Jul 10, 2021 by Dr. Amr Hosny (Headache Specialist) of Advanced Headache Center

If headaches are making your pregnancy difficult and affecting your well-being, seek help from a pain specialist who will ensure you enjoy good health till you give birth.  Headaches during pregnancy make it very difficult to sleep, concentrate or enjoy this beautiful feeling. You need to consult an experienced physician who will focus on the causes and symptoms of your headaches to find the best treatment options that provide swift relief.  The expert pain management doctors at Advanced Headache Center will come up with the best solutions to ensure a pain-free, healthy pregnancy.

Pregnancy is a beautiful time in a woman’s life, but it comes with lots of highs and lows. It can be pretty stressful at times, despite how much you love it. It can feel like a waiting game that is full of nausea, vomiting, exhaustion, back pain, weight gain, migraines, and much more. With so much going on, headaches are not far behind.

Pregnancy and Headaches

Headaches during pregnancy are common and strike women mostly during their first and third trimesters, but headaches during the second semester have been reported by some to-be mothers. Migraines are also common during pregnancies, and a lot of women get a migraine attack for the first time in their pregnancy. Those who suffer from migraine headaches regularly might find them disappearing for a short time, especially, whose pains are associated with periods.

Pregnant women must consult a pain doctor who will help them seek relief with the best medication and also suggest some non-drug therapies to prevent the onset of headaches.  Paying attention to foods and learning to avoid triggers can play a key role in keeping your pregnancy free of headaches.

What Causes Pregnancy Headaches?

There can be many causes of headaches during pregnancy. It can be anything from the extra weight you are gaining to high blood pressure and muscle strain and tightness because your body is undergoing several changes at this time that trigger headaches.

They occur for various reasons during the first and third trimester, and you will experience a steady, dull headache that goes away on its own. While most of the time, it is a harmless irritant rather than a life-threatening condition, it should not be left undiagnosed or untreated.

Causes of Headache During the First Trimester of Pregnancy

Hormonal changes

The first trimester is a time of intense hormonal overdrive, and headaches are a natural consequence. You might begin to feel better as the hormones settle down and headaches go away on their own.

Dehydration

You can get dehydrated and suffer headaches if you do not drink enough water as your body needs to remain hydrated for a healthy pregnancy.

Nausea and vomiting

Too much morning sickness, accompanied by nausea and vomiting, can leave you weak and suffering from a headache.

Food intake

Pregnancy can make you sensitive to the taste and smells of certain foods, and it leads to headaches.

Stress

Tension headaches are common in pregnancy when you are concerned about a lot of things.

Lack of sleep

Insomnia is not considered a real problem, but it is a serious aspect that can cause a lot of stress and leads to headaches.

Sinus congestion

It can be a common problem during pregnancy and causes headaches.

Some other causes are:

  • Caffeine withdrawal
  • Poor nutrition
  • Low blood sugar levels
  • Too little physical activity
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Changes in vision
  • Higher blood volume
  • Weight changes

Headache During Pregnancy Second and Third Trimester

Causes of headaches are different during the second and third trimesters. They include:

  • Extra weight
  • Poor Posture as the baby increases in size
  • Too little sleep
  • Diet
  • Muscle strain and tightness
  • High blood pressure
  • Diabetes

At times, some foods can also cause headaches, and your trigger foods may change during pregnancy. Common foods that cause headaches include:

  • Dairy
  • Chocolate
  • Cheese
  • Yeast
  • Tomatoes

Common symptoms of headaches during pregnancy

While headaches vary from person to person, most of them cause symptoms such as:

  • Dull ache
  • Throbbing or pulsating pain
  • Severe pain on one or both sides
  • Sharp pain behind one or both eyes

Migraine pain may also include:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Seeing lines or flashes of light
  • Blind spots

You must seek medical attention if your headaches last for more than a few hours and are accompanied by fever, visual disturbances, puffiness of hands and face, and dramatic weight gain.  The expert pain doctor will ensure you do not have to spend your pregnancy suffering from headaches and help you seek quick relief with a complete diagnosis.

What to Do If You Have Headaches During Pregnancy?

Little can be done if headaches during pregnancy are the result of hormonal changes, as this is a natural process. Luckily, other triggers can be controlled, and these headaches can be prevented and controlled to a great extent. The best thing to do is to understand what is causing these headaches and work on the triggers.

Your doctor might recommend some tried and tested ways to avoid headaches. They include:

  • Eating on time as skipping meals results in low blood sugar that causes headaches
  • Avoiding strong fragrances as the sense of smell becomes very strong during pregnancy and using scented shampoos, lotions, creams, lipsticks, and perfumes can trigger headaches
  • Cutting back on caffeine too soon and too drastically can lead to withdrawal symptoms, including headaches
  • Going out for some fresh air and avoiding too many closed and stuffy places
  • Avoiding foods that have an undesirable effect on health

Everyone has a different cause and trigger for headaches during pregnancy. Some women experiencing headaches should test the effect of a small amount of caffeine to see how if it helps. While it is a trigger for some patients, it is a vital part of extra strength, over-the-counter medications in combination with acetaminophen and aspirin. You can start by examining your eating habits and routines to determine the reasons behind headaches.

You must consult a pain doctor to know more about the type of headache you are suffering and what might be causing it. The pain specialist will provide the true diagnosis of your headaches and recommend the best line of treatment by combining medications, healthy habits, and non-drug options to ensure you enjoy a pain-free pregnancy to prepare for your baby’s arrival.

Treating Headaches During Pregnancy

Pregnant women must avoid over-the-counter medicines; all of them are not harmful, but too many of them can cause problems. Medications used for treating headaches or migraines affect the uterus and penetrate the placenta, which can harm the baby, and for this reason, most women bear the pain.

However, persistent headaches during pregnancy or recurring migraines might be a cause for concern and you must consult a doctor. The type of relief you need depends on an accurate diagnosis. You may have to undergo some tests such as a physical exam or x-rays, and the doctor will collect your medical history to understand what is causing the migraines and headaches or triggering them.

Is It Right to Take the Medication in Pregnancy to Treat Headaches?

Your pain specialist might recommend medications for treating recurring headaches during pregnancy, such as:

  • Sumatriptan during the first trimester as it has no ill effects on pregnancy outcome
  • Amitriptyline or Imipramine during the third trimester as they have an excellent safety record
  • Acetaminophen – as it does not cause any birth defects

Migraine medications increase the risk of inducing labor which makes it important to avoid preventative medicines till the last trimester. The best way to prevent headaches or migraines during pregnancy is to focus on non-drug-based treatments, including preventative methods such as foods and smells that trigger headache.   Follow the doctor’s advice as most headaches during pregnancy are treatable and can be prevented with the right care.

Remedies for headaches during pregnancy

Your pain expert doctor will recommend an alternative medication plan to treat headaches during pregnancy and natural remedies.

At-home treatment options include:

  • Drinking plenty of water
  • Taking sufficient rest
  • Using an ice pack or heating pad
  • Getting massage
  • Exercise and stretching
  • Using essential oils, such as peppermint, rosemary, and chamomile

If your symptoms persist or these natural remedies fail to relieve headaches, talk to your doctor and discuss your condition to get immediate medical attention.

Post-Pregnancy Headaches and Their Treatment

Some women continue to experience headaches even after delivery. Common causes of postpartum head pain include primary headache disorders such as migraine and tension-type headaches as well as secondary headache disorders such as post-dural puncture headaches.

Nursing mothers may take OTC medications for their migraines and headaches with their doctor’s advice.

You should not ignore headaches during pregnancy as they can get worse and cause complications in your condition.  Working with a top pain specialist is your first step towards a healthy and pain-free pregnancy. Schedule an appointment with a well-rounded medical provider who will understand what you are going through and come up with a multidisciplinary approach to alleviating pain.

The expert doctors at Advanced Headache Center offer a range of solutions for your discomfort.  Make your pregnancy the beautiful time it is meant to be with the best pain doctor who has the knowledge and extensive experience in treating all types of headaches.

Dr. Amr Hosny has either authored or reviewed and approved this content. Advanced Headache Center 41 5th Avenue,
New York, NY 10003
(646) 419-3105