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Pregnancy and Migraines

A Few Basics You Should Know

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Updated February 03, 2009

Pregnancy and migraines have an interesting relationship. Many women report that their migraine headaches improve during pregnancy, but for others they may get much worse. And for other women, they may experience their first migraines during pregnancy. Whatever your situation may be, keep a few things in mind as your pregnancy progresses.

What is a Migraine

Migraine headaches are usually throbbing headaches that affect one side of the head or the other. Many times they are associated with light or sound sensitivity (photophobia or phonophobia) or nausea and vomiting. Many migraines are preceded by an aura which may take one of many forms. While there is no definitive answer on what causes a migraine, alteration in the blood flow to the head and brain is a major component.

Warning Signs During Pregnancy

You should always discuss any headache symptoms you are having with your prenatal healthcare provider. Immediately notify him if you develop one of the following:
  • Fever with your headache
  • A headache that lasts more than a few hours, or that returns frequently
  • Blurry vision along with your headache

Treating Migraines During Pregnancy

Treating any medical condition during pregnancy can be tricky since you not only have to consider the mother’s health, but also the health of the growing baby. Many pregnant mothers like to try “natural” headache remedies first. Avoiding obvious headache triggers would be the first step. Many migraines can be caused by diet, especially foods containing caffeine like coffee or chocolate, or foods rich in tyramine, like some cheeses and processed meats. Stress can also cause a migraine to appear. Keeping a headache diary so you can start to notice personal headache triggers is a good first step.

If natural treatments don’t help you, your healthcare provider may decide to use medications. When using prescription medications paying attention to pregnancy categories is important. Acetaminophen (Tylenol) is the main pain reliever used during pregnancy, but your healthcare provider may consider other prescription medications should this fail to work. Avoid using over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications (such as naproxen or ibuprofen) or aspirin without first speaking to your prenatal care provider. In rare instances, a pregnant woman may need to take prophylactic medications to prevent migraines from occurring.

Sources:

Cunningham, F Gary, et al. Williams Obstetrics: 20th Edition. Appleton & Lange: Stamford, CT. 1997. pp. 1260-1.

”Migraines During Pregnancy.” From the American Pregnancy Association website. Accessed February 2, 2009. http://www.americanpregnancy.org/pregnancyhealth/migraines.html

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