Migraines During Pregnancy Could Lead to Serious Complications

Updated: July 25, 2019
Migraines during pregnancy are linked to more complications than just the debilitating pain they cause. Here's what you need to know:
woman experiencing migraine during pregnancy

Being pregnant is challenging enough but when you add additional complications on top of that it makes it such a struggle. Nine months can quickly stretch into an eternity. Women are far more likely to suffer migraines and that continues to increase during a woman’s childbearing years. The good news is that for many women pregnancy helps with this issue or at least resolves itself after the first trimester. But for some, migraines can increase. For the women who experience migraines during pregnancy, it can be horrendous. Can you relate? 

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In an article published in Science Daily recently, there was a study conducted about pregnant women who experience migraines. The study used a comprehensive register-baby study looking at over 22,000 pregnant women with migraines and compared it to nearly 10 times the number of pregnant women who did not experience migraine.  So, what did they find?

A Study on Migraines During Pregnancy

Migraines during pregnancy are linked to more complications than just the debilitating pain they cause. According to the study that was conducted, they summarized that “pregnant women with migraines have an increased risk of miscarriage, cesarean section and giving birth to a child with low birth weight.” Also, migraines are linked to high blood pressure, abortions, and preterm births. Newborns of mothers who experience migraines throughout their pregnancy have an increased risk of febrile seizures and respiratory distress. Looks like migraines are much more than a mental disturbance. 

What is a Migraine?

First off, what is a migraine? Are they different than headaches? The answer is yes, they are completely different and if you are a migraine sufferer, you know the difference and the pain. There are a few different types of headaches: tension headaches, which usually cause tight pain somewhere along the head or neck, and sinus headaches, which are pain in the cheeks, nose, or head. Lastly, there are migraines, which not only cause a pounding pain of the head, but they are coupled with either nausea and/or light sensitivity. Migraines are a neurological condition, much different than tension or sinus headaches. Before you attempt to try and treat yourself, it is important to work closely with your OBGYN with any symptoms you may be experiencing and work together at trying to come up with a solution that is right for you. 

Tips for Dealing With Migraines During Pregnancy

What are some ways to help treat migraines? Some natural and non-invasive ways to try and help relieve and prevent migraines include:

  • Taking a cold shower or placing a cold towel on your forehead or behind your neck
  • Turning off the lights and being in a dark room
  • Taking a short nap and elevating your legs 
  • Exercising to get the blood flowing
  • Eating a balanced and healthy diet as well as making sure to get plenty of fluids. 

According to the American Pregnancy Association, there are many common triggers to migraines including: 

  • Stress
  • Skipped meals
  • Lack of sleep
  • Chocolate
  • Caffeine
  • MSG
  • Aspartame

Some people have found it very helpful to try and pinpoint their migraine triggers by keeping a migraine diary and recording the type of pain felt, the symptoms you had coupled with your migraine, the time it started and ended, what you consumed 24 hours prior to it starting, any environmental changes that occurred, and whatever treatment you tried to help alleviate your pain and whether or not it helped. 

In addition, some people have had success with massages, acupuncture, and biofeedback. Massages are great for helping to release tension in the neck and shoulders, as well as helping to relax. Being able to truly relax helps calm the sympathetic nervous system. Acupuncture electrically stimulates the nerves, which helps to release brain chemicals, thus, relieving symptoms. Biofeedback is a technique where a biofeedback therapist uses an instrument to monitor body responses and functions, to be aware of stress when it occurs and to figure out how to reduce it before it manifests into other issues, such as migraines. In biofeedback, three main muscles are monitored: frontalis, the muscle in the forehead, masseter, the muscle in the jaw, and trapezius, the muscle in the shoulders. 

There is a slew of tips and tricks that can help relieve migraine symptoms, but prevention is key. It is always better to try and find your triggers or find a remedy that works for you to prevent the migraine in the first place. For some, they need something a bit more serious, and there are a few other options. Many doctors feel comfortable prescribing Tylenol two to three times a week of 500mg. If this is still not effective, there are two prescription migraine medications that doctors use for pregnant women, Darvocet or Fioricet. During the study that was conducted, there was a correlation showing those who used migraine medications experiences fewer risks associated with migraines and pregnancy. 

In short, I can completely relate. My second pregnancy came with debilitating migraines for nearly the entire first trimester. It felt like one long migraine for three months. While having a two-year-old to take care of, it was completely miserable. I followed some of the steps mentioned above like eating healthy and keeping hydrated. Napping was completely out of the question, but I would find quiet time to kick back and put my legs up. Acupuncture was also very helpful for me in preventing migraines and getting through the first trimester. Almost like clockwork, when I entered the second trimester, my migraines disappeared, and I was able to enjoy the rest of my pregnancy. If you are pregnant and are suffering from migraines, talk to your OBGYN and find a plan that will work for you.

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