Headaches are very common during pregnancy and its frequency is more during the first and second trimester of pregnancy. Most of the headaches that are experienced during pregnancy get aggravated with poor posture, stress, lack of sleep, low blood sugar, caffeine withdrawal and dehydration.
Usually headaches reduce after the first trimester of pregnancy when the hormonal level in the body gets stabilized. But the incidence of headache due to poor posture may increase after the first trimester because the additional weight in the belly changes the posture of the women and may strain the neck and shoulders and cause muscle spasms .These muscular spasm that may irritate the nerves on the back of the head and cause headache.
However migraine headaches are different from the headaches caused by tension or stress. They are actually vascular headaches caused due to the dilation of blood vessels within the brain. Major reasons for these headaches are usually the rapid rise in hormone levels as well as the increased volume of blood circulating through the body.
Those who are prone to develop migraines may get stronger headaches but some others experience weak migraines during pregnancy. Some women get their first migraine during pregnancy. When the blood vessels in the brain dilates it cause severe pain that starts with a dull ache and then finally becomes a constant pulsating pain in the front portion of the head, temples and also at the base of the head. Migraine headache last for about 72 hours and gets aggravated with improved physical activity.
Migraine headache may also be accompanied by nausea and vomiting. Certain others experience an aura which is the jagged line, dots or wave of flashing lights along with blind spots or tunnel vision. Some women may even experience sensation of numbness, speech disturbance and weakness during migraine attacks.
Treatment for Migraines
If migraine attacks creates more problems or gets worsens then there are several ways to address the condition rather than taking medications which are not good during pregnancy.
First of all find out the triggers that leads to migraine and for this keep a headache diary and note whenever the headaches hits and collect the details such as how long it last, any other symptoms, food and beverages you took on the day, any travel, change in climate, stress, any new food and any treatment that you tried to avoid the headache and its effect on the headache etc.
Besides hormonal variation there are other reasons also like lack of sleep, stress, skipped meals etc that trigger migraines. Certain food items like chocolates, caffeine, foods containing preservatives, cheese etc may also trigger migraine. This diary helps you to know which is the causative agent for your migraine and can avoid it during the pregnancy or this dairy may even help your doctor to decide what kind of treatment you need.
In order to prevent the attacks of migraine pregnant women should take healthy meals at appropriate time. Small and frequent meals that contain lot of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein etc are ideal because it helps to keep the blood sugar in a steady level. They should also drink plenty of water to keep themselves hydrated.
Apart from the healthy eating habits practice exercises, relaxation techniques such as yoga, biofeedback, acupuncture, meditation or deep breathing exercises. Follow safe and moderate exercises that can be done during pregnancy because an abrupt transition to intense activity may trigger migraine and discontinue exercise once the migraine starts. Safest exercises during pregnancy are walking, swimming, indoor biking, low impact aerobics etc. Also take adequate rest in a calm dark room and try to sleep to get rid of the headache. Also ensure that you are sleeping properly at night as lack of sleep may trigger migraine and a nap during the day is also equally beneficial.
Massage the shoulders, temples, nose and neck to reduce the stress and relaxation is also an effective way to avoid headaches. Even a total body massage is helpful to relax the muscles of the shoulders, neck, back, legs etc and release the tension but while choosing somebody to massage make sure that the person get enough experience in prenatal massage and is a trained professional.
One can also try out alternate cold and heat pack on the sides of the head, back of the neck and also on the eyes. Similarly taking a shower in cold water also helps to shrink the already dilated blood vessels in the head.
After every effort if you are not able to get rid of the headache, then the doctor may prescribe pain killers. But the usual pain killers like ibuprofen or aspirin are contraindicated during pregnancy and hence most of the doctors suggest acetaminophen for pregnancy migraines.
Usually the headaches in pregnancy are harmless even though they are unpleasant and tiresome. If you have the headache for the first time during the pregnancy then better undertake a complete medical evaluation. This is because the headache may be the symptom of pre-eclampsia which is a life threatening condition that arise due to high blood pressure and may even lead a person to comma. Chances for pre-eclampsia are more during the second or third trimester.
If you have unbearable pain and discomforts that are not reducing with the self-care or if you experience sudden gain of weight, blurry vision, swelling in the face and hand or having pain in the upper part of the right abdomen then better consult your doctor. Doctors can differentially diagnose migraines from a headache diary and family history. However other tests such as CT scan or radiology are not advisable during pregnancy as it risk the life of the fetus.
Blood pressure and urine test helps to rule out the chances of pre-eclampsia because pregnant women having pre-eclampsia have high blood pressure and high protein content in their urine. Better talk with your health care provider about the headaches even if it’s a light headache and explain them all associated symptoms of your headache. But that doesn’t mean that you need to rush to the health care provider whenever you have a headache but keep the doctor updated about your health in each of your visit. Take your doctor’ consent before taking any natural or herbal medications, exercises, diet and self-care and have a pregnancy that is devoid of any troubles.