Headaches During Pregnancy

Oh, My Aching Head: Pregnancy Headaches

For reasons still unknown to science, women are more prone to headaches during pregnancy than when they are not pregnant. Blame it on the hormonal free-for-all that takes place during the first trimester. Or, maybe going cold turkey on caffeine because you want to be doing healthy things for your baby, gave you the granddaddy of all headaches. Lack of sleep, fatigue, hunger, and dehydration are other things that may cause a headache to erupt.

Whatever the reason, it is not unusual for women in their first trimester of pregnancy to experience headaches. The good news is that often by the second trimester they tend to diminish or even disappear entirely when hormones stabilize and the body acclimates to the changes in its chemistry.

The Big Difference Between Pregnancy Headaches

Migraine, while different from the run-of-the-mill tension headache, is also a common type of headache. The experts tell us that one in five women will experience a migraine headache at some point in her life, and about 15 percent of migraine sufferers have their first experience with these painful headaches when they are pregnant-usually in the first trimester.

Unlike a "regular" headache, migraines cause mild to severe throbbing, often on one side of the head, and they can last from just a few hours to up to three days. They can be, and often are, accompanied by other symptoms such as sensitivity to light, vomiting, and sensitivity to noise.

Auras, which are symptoms that precede a migraine, are frequent with some sufferers of this type of headache. Visual changes, including bright spots or flashes or blind spots, feelings of "pins and needles," numbness, weakness, speech disturbances and nausea are some of the symptoms that may start as much as an hour before the headache actually hits.

Interestingly, and fortunately, women who suffered with migraines before pregnancy sometimes find that they improve during pregnancy. The good news is that it does not appear that migraines cause any risk of complications for women during pregnancy.

What Treatments Are Safe During Pregnancy?

Since most medications are off limits to pregnant women, there are not many alternatives in terms of medicinal remedies for relief of migraine. Acetaminophen is safe to take as directed on the label; however, it is always best to check with the doctor before taking any medication when pregnant.

There are some things a woman can do to relieve the pain of a migraine headache when she is pregnant. One such practice is to find out what is triggering the headache in the first place. If a headache occurs, as soon as possible, record what was eaten in the previous 24 hours and what types of activities took place. Often food or a rise in blood pressure brought on by activity can trigger a headache.

Common Triggers For Pregnancy Headaches

Some common triggers are monosodium glutamate (MSG), nitrates (often found in processed foods) sulphites (found in dried fruits), artificial sweeteners, dairy products, chocolate and fermented or pickled foods, like soy sauce and sauerkraut. Other triggers can be glaring or flickering lights, loud noises, excessive heat or strong smells.

Cold compresses or a cool shower can help to relieve the pain. Drink enough and avoid being hungry. Rest as often as possible and use relaxation techniques to relieve stress.

While headaches during pregnancy are often benign, if they are consistently severe, consult a doctor.

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