Headaches during pregnancy
If you’re pregnant, you’re no doubt experiencing new aches and pains. Headaches can be common in early pregnancy. They usually improve as your pregnancy goes on. 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. A headache can sometimes be a symptom of pre-eclampsia, which can lead to serious complications if it’s not monitored and treated. Pre-eclampsia usually starts after 20 weeks of pregnancy. Nearly all women have occasional headaches, but having a headache in pregnancy is not fun, especially tricky in the first trimester when you should avoid many medicines. Whether your headache is from tension or is a full-blown migraine, there are some things you should know.
What causes headaches during pregnancy?
The exact cause of a headache isn’t always clear. In the first trimester, changing hormone levels and blood volume may play a role. Hunger and low levels of blood sugar can trigger headaches, too. Researchers believe that overly excited brain cells stimulate a release of chemicals. These chemicals irritate blood vessels on the brain’s surface. That, in turn, causes blood vessels to swell and stimulate the pain response. Headaches during your second or third trimester of pregnancy may be a sign that you have high blood pressure. About 6 to 8 percent of pregnant women ages 20 to 44 in the United States have high blood pressure.
Other causes of headaches during pregnancy can include:
- not getting enough sleep
- hormonal changes
- withdrawal from caffeine (e.g. in coffee, tea, or cola drinks)
- low blood sugar
- feeling stressed
- poor posture, particularly as your baby gets bigger
- having depression or anxiety
- weight changes
- high blood pressure
Types of headaches
Most headaches during pregnancy are primary headaches. This means that the headache pain happens by itself. It’s not a sign or symptom of another disorder or a complication in the pregnancy. Primary headaches include:
- Tension headaches: A tension-type headache (TTH) is generally a mild to moderate pain that’s often described as feeling like a tight band around the head. About 26 percent of headaches during pregnancy are tension headaches and are common in the first trimester of your pregnancy.
- Migraine attacks: Migraine headaches are a common type of headache in pregnancy. These painful, throbbing headaches are usually felt on one side of the head and result from the expansion of the blood vessels in the brain.
- Cluster headaches: Cluster headaches are one of the most painful types of headaches. A cluster headache commonly awakens you in the middle of the night with intense pain in or around one eye on one side of your head.
What can I do about headaches?
Steps to manage headaches include the following:
- Avoid any known headache triggers
- Include physical activity in your daily routine.
- Reduce your stress level and relax
- Practice relaxation techniques.
- Eat regularly
- Follow a regular sleep schedule.
- drink plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration
- get enough sleep
Treatment for headaches during pregnancy
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. Most pregnant women can safely take acetaminophen (Tylenol, others) to treat occasional headaches. Talk to your doctor before taking your regular headache pain medication during pregnancy.
See your doctor if you have any headache pain at all during pregnancy. Get urgent medical attention if you have a fever, severe pain, and blurred vision. Let your doctor know right away.
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