Migraine headaches are a specific type of headache where blood vessels dilate in the brain.Tension or stress headaches have a dull pain and/or tightness around the forehead, back of head and neck, or behind the eyes, but they're not quiet as intense as a full-blown migraine. A migraine can start dull, but progress with nausea, sensitivity to light and sound, throbbing pain, and even flashing lights in your line of vision. If you suffer from this "special" type of headache and plan on starting a family, you might wonder: does pregnancy make migraines worse? Turns out it depends, but not necessarily.
Dr. David Dodick, professor of medicine at the Mayo Clinic School of Medicine in Arizona and chair of the American Migraine Foundation, says there is good news. According to Dr. Dodick in the American Migraine Foundation's website, "50 to 80 percent of women who have migraine before pregnancy may notice a reduction in migraine attacks, especially in the second and third trimesters." Dr. Dodick adds that the decrease is likely due to a rise in estrogen levels. There is a downside, though. Expectant moms who've not experienced migraines before could actually get them for the first time during a pregnancy.
Likewise, and according to the American Migraine Foundation, those who have a history of migraines may experience stronger, more intense migraine attacks while pregnant. If these attacks are accompanied by a spike in your blood pressure, you may be at risk for developing pre-eclampsia and other pregnancy-related complications. So really, it varies from woman to woman and pregnancy to pregnancy.
According to the American Pregnancy Association (APA), it's important to keep a headache diary, noting when attacks occur, what may have triggered an attack, and how long the attack lasts, from beginning to end. You should also keep track of what symptoms you experience with each migraine, because anything that comes with the migraine, such as a fever or blurred visions, should be treated as a medical emergency. In other words, you should seek immediate medical care from your hospital or physician.
Some possible migraine triggers could be stress, chocolate, coffee, cheese, weather, and, of course, hormones. Lara Simondi, a certified nurse-midwife at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, tells The Bump that another often overlooked cause is dehydration, or going too long without food. The triggers vary between women, and thus keeping track of your headaches when pregnant can help you and your doctor create a plan of action.
MigraineTrust.org warns that the first three months of pregnancy may increase your chance of having a migraine headache, due to morning sickness (which leads to dehydration and low blood sugar). It's also important to practice self care in general, but when pregnant, staying extra vigilant could ward off an unwanted migraine headache. The aforementioned site suggests eating and drinking in small, frequent quantities to help prevent the onset of a debilitating migraine attack.
If you're pregnant, know that suffering from migraine headaches won't affect your growing fetus, unless the attacks are accompanied by the aforementioned symptoms that could increase the risk of certain pregnancy complications. While you may not be able to take traditional over-the-counter medicines, there are some things you can do. According to the APA, pressing either heat or cold (or combination of both) to the temples, eyes, and back of the neck via frozen cold packs and heating pads are a great way to reduce the severity of the migraine. Sleep or rest, a cold shower, stretching, and meditation, are also great additions to your self-care routine.
The bottom line? Talk to your doctor if you've experienced migraines in the past and are now pregnant. You and your health care provider can come up with the best course of action that could help you side-step migraines during your 40 weeks (more or less) of gestation. The bright side to all of this is that while pregnancy might make migraines worse, research seems to say there's just as much chance it won't.
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