Are early pregnancy headaches normal, or are they a sign of something more serious? With all the changes going on during pregnancy, it’s difficult to know what to focus on. But you don’t want to miss warning signs that could indicate more problems down the road.
Headache and/or migraine attacks during early pregnancy is common, but not “normal”. In other words, you should be concerned, and you should investigate.
Types of Early Pregnancy Headaches
A study published in The Obstetrician & Gynaecologist estimated that 90% of headaches during pregnancy are either tension-type headache or migraine. If you suffered from migraine attacks before you became pregnant, your attacks may get worse during the first trimester. If this is true for you, statistically things should get better during the second and third trimester, and may even continue to be better after your baby is born (especially if you breastfeed). (Here’s a quick overview of statistics for early pregnancy headaches and their progression)
So about 90% of headaches may come from a common source (migraine and/or tension type headache), but that means that 1 in 10 are from a less common source. That alone should be a good reason to see your doctor. Sometimes blood clots (cerebral venous thrombosis), for example, may lead to headache, and there may be no other symptoms. Various neurological conditions can be very serious (even fatal) during pregnancy, and many conditions do include headache.
However, even the more “common” type headaches can be serious concerns during early pregnancy. And in spite of what you may have been told, there are good treatments available.
The treatment your doctor will prescribe for early pregnancy headaches will depend on your symptoms, including the severity of the headache. If you’re in emergency due to a headache, common treatments to “break the cycle” may include acetaminophen / paracetamol or intravenous magnesium. Some specialists are trying intravenous metoclopramide and diphenhydramine as well.
For less severe headaches, there are a large range of treatments available to the pregnant woman. However, you are always wise to talk to a doctor who knows your medical history before going ahead with your own treatment – and this includes over the counter “painkillers” (which sometimes can make things worse) and supplements.
Although caution is advised during early pregnancy, there are drug options. Your doctor will discuss the safety of these with you, and you can decide what to try and when.
There are many complimentary treatments which have been very effective (in some cases more effective than drugs). For example, magnesium, biofeedback, feverfew, massage, and devices such as SootheAway.
When No One Will Listen
If your doctor continually brushes you off and suggests that they’re “only headaches”, seriously consider finding a new doctor. It’s true that you may be able to take some simple medication and find relief. But if the symptoms continue, and interfere with your life, they need to be taken seriously.
The good news is that there are treatments available, and that things should get better if you pay attention to what your body is telling you. But that is critical – don’t ignore headaches during the first trimester. Dealing with them early on will save you a lot of grief in the long run.
Be concerned, but don’t panic. If you’re having trouble finding good help, leave a comment for our community.
For more information, read The Myth-Busting Guide to Migraines and Pregnancy