Help with pregnancy headaches

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Headaches are as common during pregnancy as at other times and, as with most common symptoms, it can be difficult to distinguish serious causes from those that are harmless and simply treated.

Your doctor needs to establish whether there were pre-existing symptoms, such as migraine, or whether the symptoms are new. Many conditions can either improve or worsen during pregnancy, which is one reason why it’s important to see a caregiver early in your pregnancy.

Any condition such as migraine, general stress and sinusitis can cause a headache, but so can blood pressure problems and intracranial lesions so it important for your caregiver to do a detailed history and examination to find out the likely cause.

A baseline for your blood pressure will also be obtained at this first visit.

High blood pressure is a cause for concern during pregnancy and chronic medications may be switched to safer alternatives, so close attentions should be paid to effectiveness. The headache could be a symptom of poor control or side-effect of a new drug.

What can cause pregnancy-related headaches

Hormonal changes

Some headaches are specific to pregnancy. General hormonal changes, specifically high oestrogen levels, will trigger headaches in some women. This is similar to headaches experienced while on oestrogen containing pills, or suffering from menstrual headaches.

Often this oestrogen-related headache will settle by the fourth or fifth month. Again treatment is with simple analgesics.

Nausea and vomiting

Nausea and vomiting with dehydration in the early months might result in a headache; as might muscular-skeletal changes that pregnant women experience.

Pre-eclampsia

Towards the end of pregnancy, headaches can be a symptom of pre-eclampsia, and a patient presenting with a headache in the late second trimester and beyond should be screened appropriately. Blood pressure should be checked along with urine analysis for protein excretion.

Medical conditions that cause headaches during pregnancy

Many medical conditions arise in pregnancy simply because you're more susceptible. For example:

  • Any upper respiratory infections, sinusitis, viral or bacterial may cause headaches.
  • Other common problems include urinary and bowel infections, both of which may include a headache.
  • Disorders of the gums and teeth are relatively common and should be checked out.
  • Eye changes occur in pregnancy, so close computer work or reading may result in headaches.
  • General stress, anxiety etc, may also indirectly result in headaches.

Treatment

Treatment of the underlying cause generally alleviates the symptoms. Before you take medication, try and relieve your headache with one or more of the following suggestions:

  • For sinus headaches, apply a warm compress around your eyes and nose.
  • For tension headaches, apply a cold compress or ice pack at the base of your neck.
  • Maintain your blood sugar by eating smaller more frequent meals.
  • Having someone massage your shoulders and neck is an effective way to try and relieve the pain.
  • Rest in a dark room. This may be more helpful if you use relaxation techniques such as deep breathing.
  • Take one to four 450 mg tablets of calcium, one to four times a day depending on the pain. Calcium tends to quiet the nerves and ease pain.
  • Use natural herbs such as hops, skullcap and catnip in tea or take them as capsules for potential relief.

Migraines and diet

If you suffer from migraines, try cutting the following foods from your diet:

  • Chocolate
  • Alcohol
  • Yoghurt
  • Aged cheese
  • Peanuts
  • Citrus fruit
  • Breads with fresh yeast
  • Preserved meat
  • Sour cream
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