Why Do Women Experience Pregnancy Headaches?
Pregnancy headaches 101: More than one-third of women experience headaches during pregnancy. Learn why, along with which migraine triggers to avoid.
Pregnancies are like seashells: No two are exactly alike — which is why you may have experienced pounding migraine pain while others enjoy 40 weeks of pure bliss. Neurologist Nasima Shadbehr, DO, explains.
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Headaches fall into two categories: primary or secondary. Secondary headaches are caused by an underlying health problem, such as a sinus infection or high blood pressure. Primary headaches are self-contained — the pain you feel is a direct result of the headache itself. Migraines are a classic example.
Migraine sufferers often experience:
If you experience a migraine while pregnant, it often can go hand-in-hand with aura, too. Aura is a temporary sensory disturbance that may include visual changes, numbness and tingling, or speech changes.
So what is it about having a bun in the oven that makes your head hurt (other than thinking about college tuition)? Blame it on the hormones. The very things that help your body keep your unborn baby healthy and nourished also up your headache quota. So does an increase in blood volume, which happens during the first trimester.
Other factors that lead to headaches during pregnancy include:
More than a quarter of women have migraines during reproductive years. Women who have migraines are more likely to have them during pregnancy as well. But in cases involving secondary headaches, causes include:
“We look at everyone closely and assess their symptoms,” notes Dr. Shadbehr. “The first question we want to answer is, ‘Is this a primary headache or a warning sign of an underlying condition?’”
The good news? “Most women see an improvement in the number of migraines they experience as their pregnancy goes on,” reports Dr. Shadbehr. But to better cope when the headaches just won’t quit, she recommends these seven tips:
Dr. Shadbehr emphasizes that it’s wise to include your doctor in any decision making, especially when considering medication:“It should be a joint and educated decision between the patient, their neurologist and often, their Ob/Gyn. Together, we determine the best treatment approach for primary or secondary headaches.”