Headaches in Pregnancy

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For some women, headache is a recurring problem in normal pregnancy. It is one of the most common complaints. It can be a flare up of previous migraine attacks. Or headache may occur for the first time during pregnancy. But many women agree that it is more severe in intensity than headaches in the non-pregnant state.

 Headache in pregnancy

Headaches may occur at any time during the pregnancy, but they tend to be most common during the first and third trimesters.

Causes of Headache in Pregnancy

The exact cause is not known. The reason may be different in different women.

 Causes of Headache in pregnancy

  • Hormonal Surges
  • As soon as you become pregnant, the level of hormones like estrogen, progesterone and other hormones rises steeply. These hormones are needed to maintain the pregnancy and help the baby to grow. But the sudden hormonal surge may also be the trigger for migraine headaches.

  • Dilation of Blood vessels of the Head
  • Some researchers believe that the headaches can be due to the excessive dilation of the blood vessels of the head, caused by hormones like progesterone and oestrogen. These hormones are necessary to dilate the blood vessels of the uterus, thus increasing its blood supply and helping the baby to grow. But they can have a similar effect on the blood vesels of the head.

  • Dehydration
  • Dehydration can occur in early pregnancy due to low intake of fluids as a result of nausea in morning sickness. Vomiting can cause further lowering of the fluid level in the body.

  • Stress
  • Stress due to the sudden changes in the body as well as due to fatigue, backpain, leg cramps and a tension about the upcoming labor and childbirth can trigger off headaches.

  • Low blood sugar level
  • Headaches due to a low blood sugar level, also called hypoglycemic headache is quite common, especially in early pregnancy. Hypoglycemia can occur due to a inability to take a proper diet in pregnancy due to nausea or a difficulty in absorption of nutrients due to indigestion and heartburn.

  • Lack of Sleep / Insomnia
  • Sleeplessness can occur due to a number of reasons - fatigue, backpain, leg cramps, the bulky uterus preventing a comfortable posture in bed, increased rate of passing urine at night - all these can contribute to sleeplessness in the pregnant woman.

  • Caffeine Withdrawal
  • As soon as a woman discovers that she is pregnant, she stops all caffeine containing food like coffee, tea, coke and chocolates. Since caffeine is a mildly addictive stimulant, a sudden stoppage can cause withdrawal symptoms like headaches and depression.

    What you can do about Headaches in Pregnancy

    Most headaches in pregnancy can be managed by simple home rememdies.

  • For Migraines
  • Avoid any known headache triggers, including allergens and certain foods, like monosodium glutamate, cured meats, and strong cheeses. Rest in a cool , dark room. Avoid stress as much as possible. Take Acetaminophen tablets which are available without a prescription. If certain foods or odors have triggered a headache in the past, avoid them. A headache diary might help you identify triggers.

  • For Tension or Stress Headache
  • Apply a warm pack on the back of the neck to help relax the muscles. Lie down in a cool dark room for some time. Get enough rest - try to sleep for at least 8 hours at night and take a short nap for 1-2 hours during the day. Get a massage. Massaging your shoulders and neck is an effective way to relieve pain. Try using warm or cold compresses or an ice pack.

  • For Sinus Headaches
  • Apply a warm compress over the nose and eyes to help drainage from the sinuses. The warmth will also help decrease inflammation. A warm shower can also help to decrease sinus headaches.

  • Practice relaxation techniques
  • . Try deep breathing, yoga, massage and visualization.

  • Have your eyesight checked
  • A change in the power of the eyes can cause headache.

  • Increase your Intake of Fluids
  • Dehydration is a very common cause of headache and fatigue. Vomiting and nausea can decrease your fluid intake. Heartburn and indigestion can cause further dehydration by preventing absorption of fluids from the gut.

  • Hypoglycemic Headaches
  • Take frequent small meals - it will help to maintain your blood sugar level. It will also help in better absorption of food. Do not go for more than 4 hours without food.

  • Sudden Caffeine Withdrawal
  • Sudden caffeine withdrawal in early pregnancy due to cutting down on your intake of tea, coffee or colas can cause headache. This will go away as your body adjusts to the decreased caffeine dose.

  • If the Headache is unbearable
  • For unbearable headaches, ask your doctor for medicines. Paracetamol can be safely taken in pregnancy. Ibuprofen and acetoaminophen should be avoided.

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    When should you be concerned or worried about headaches during pregnancy?

    A headache may be worrying when:

  • When a headache is severe and cannot be managed with painkillers
  • when you have dizziness
  • When you have blurred vision, or changes in your field of vision
  • If there is associated swelling of the feet, hands or face
  • If there is severe heartburn or pain under the ribs.

    These could be signs of a high blood pressure and a serious condition called Pre-eclamptic toxaemia (PET). If you do have this type of headache, please contact your healthcare provider.

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