Headaches in pregnancy are common and are mostly not serious. Rarely, however, a headache during pregnancy can signal a life-threatening condition such as pre-eclampsia or cerebral venous thrombosis. Know more about the causes, relief and risks associated with headaches in pregnancy.
Last Updated: Oct 22, 2020 11:29 GMT
Headaches in pregnancy are common and are mostly not serious. Rarely, however, a headache during pregnancy can signal a life-threatening condition such as pre-eclampsia or cerebral venous thrombosis.What Causes Headaches in Pregnancy?
A headache is a symptom of an underlying condition and does not sign a condition by itself. As there could be a multitude of causes for headaches, it requires careful assessment to diagnose the cause of a headache in pregnancy. Here are a few triggers of headaches in pregnancy:
- If you have a history of headaches prior to pregnancy, you are most likely to experience headaches during pregnancy as well.
- Headaches in the early stages of pregnancy could sign that your body is struggling to cope up with the sudden surge of blood volume in the circulation.
- Headaches in the latter half of pregnancy could be related to the shift in the center of gravity because of the added weight of the baby bump in the front.
- A migraine (pain on one side of the head) is one of the common culprits behind pregnancy headaches.
- Stress or strain in the neck or back muscles can cause a headache.
- Nasal congestion is one of the early signs of pregnancy. It can get worse in an expectant mother who is prone to sinusitis, which in turn can lead to headaches.
- Dehydration is one of the major causes of headaches. Nausea and vomiting in pregnancy can throw out much of the water content in the body, resulting in headaches.
- Women who are habituated to coffee drinking may experience headaches upon sudden withdrawal of caffeine during pregnancy.
- Lack of sleep or prolonged sleep disturbances can cause headaches during pregnancy.
- Stress and anxiety in the pregnant mother can also trigger headaches in pregnancy.
A few serious conditions that can cause headaches in pregnancy are:
- Pre-eclampsia: Pre-eclampsia is a dangerous condition in pregnancy, characterized by high blood pressure, swelling of body parts such as face and arms and accompanied by severe headaches and changes in vision such as flashing lights.
- Cerebral venous thrombosis: In extremely rare cases, pregnancy can induce cerebral venous thrombosis, a life-threatening condition wherein a blood clot in a blood vessel blocks the normal flow of blood out of the brain. It can give rise to severe headaches, seizures, altered state of consciousness and abnormal vision.
- A recent head injury: An unfortunate incident of bumping your head against something sharp or hard can result in headaches.
How to get relief from headaches during pregnancy?
It is important to report severe headaches during pregnancy to your healthcare provider. A doctor can recommend you an appropriate medicine which is safe to consume during pregnancy, after a thorough assessment. If you are experiencing a mild headache and if you are confident to manage it by yourself, you can try the following tips:
- Relax: Yes, pregnancy is a period of mixed experiences, anxiety, and stress. If what you are experiencing is a tension headache, you need to let go of the stress that's bothering you. Take a cool shower if you have a migraine or a warm bath to get relief from a tension headache.
- Keep yourself hydrated: Drink plenty of fluids, in sips, if having gulps of glasses is a problem at this time. If water makes it boring, add fruit juices and lemon drinks to your diet.
- Avoid being hungry or empty stomach: In spite of the queasiness caused by morning sickness, try to have small portions of nuts or your favorite foods so that you never remain hungry.
- Get enough rest: It might be easier said than done during pregnancy. Yet, try to take advantage of any possible time for a nap which will help rejuvenate your body and brain.
Revell K, Morrish P. Headaches in pregnancy. The Obstetrician & Gynaecologist 2014;16:17984