What you should know about migraines and pregnancy

According to the Migraine Research Foundation, migraines are the third most prevalent illness worldwide, affecting around 39 million people in the United States. The pain, sensitivity to sound and light, and nausea can be incapacitating. For pregnant women, a migraine can amplify morning sickness and other normal physical changes during pregnancy. 

Women who suffered from migraines prior to becoming pregnant may notice changes in their headache patterns during pregnancy. Some may experience stronger headaches. For others, pregnancy will reduce the frequency and severity of migraines.

Some women may experience their first migraine attack during pregnancy, increasing in frequency during the first trimester and then decreasing later. They are usually nothing to worry about, however, a migraine could be an early indicator of pregnancy complications.

A study published in Headache: The Journal of Head and Face Pain found that pregnant women with severe migraines were associated with elevated risk of pregnancy complications, such as preeclampsia, preterm delivery and low birth weight infants.

What migraine treatment options are available for pregnant women?

If you experience migraines, keep a thorough diary of migraine attacks. This will help you identify and avoid triggers, such as stress, certain foods and drinks and sensory stimuli.

Treatment of migraines in pregnancy may include soothing activities like meditation, yoga, acupuncture, and sleep. For pain relief, apply heat or cold packs to the sides of the head, eyes, and along the back of the neck. Be extremely careful with any medications to treat pain or nausea. Small amounts of acetaminophen and caffeine are safe, however, pregnant women should avoid medications containing aspirin or ibuprofen.

Migraine sufferers who are pregnant or plan to become pregnant should carefully evaluate migraine treatment options. Collaborate with your doctor to develop a treatment plan and a back up plan, which include both pain medications and home remedies.

The ABCs of headaches

Almost everyone has experienced a headache at some point in his or her life. It is one of the most common medical complaints, but it can still be difficult to describe. The pain can be throbbing or squeezing and can span the whole head or be localized to one part of the face or skull.

Head pain can be classified into one of three types: Primary headaches, secondary headaches and the more rare cranial neuralgias or facial pain. 

Primary headaches

Tension headaches are the most common type of primary headache. They are painful and can impact your daily activities. Over-the-counter medications, such as aspirin and ibuprofen, can usually relieve sporadic tension headaches. However, if you experience chronic headaches, preventative medication may be required. 

Migraine headaches are a common type of primary headache affecting both children and adults. Treatment is focused on stopping symptoms and preventing future episodes. Pain relieving medications can be taken during migraine episodes, and preventative medications should be taken regularly to reduce the severity and frequency.

Cluster headaches are rare, commonly affect men in their late 20s or older, and recur daily. The pain from the first episode must be managed, and the subsequent headaches must be prevented. Some migraine medications, lidocaine and oxygen are common initial treatment options.

Secondary headaches

Secondary headaches are caused by underlying structural or infectious problems in the head or neck, including dental pain, sinus infections and more serious conditions like meningitis. Secondary headaches also include those associated with substance abuse, including hangover headaches. 

Preventing headaches depends on the type and severity of previous headaches. You can prevent some secondary headaches by avoiding their causes, like excessive drinking. For other types of headaches, you’ll need to keep track of symptoms, duration, severity and any possible triggers. As you track your headaches, a pattern will emerge, enabling you to avoid triggers and prevent future headaches.