Migraine Headaches and Pregnancy
If you're pregnant, you're no doubt experiencing new aches and pains. If you're also one of the millions of pregnant women who experience migraines, you might be glad to know that pregnancy eases migraine headache symptoms for many women. But even if it doesn't for you, the information in this article can help you cope.
Causes of Migraine Headaches
Exactly what causes migraine headaches isn't known. But migraines appear to involve changes in nerve pathways, neurochemicals, and blood flow in the brain.
Researchers believe that overly excited brain cells stimulate a release of chemicals. These chemicals irritate blood vessels on the brain's surface. That, in turn, causes blood vessels to swell and stimulate the pain response.
Estrogen is thought to play a role in migraines. That's why pregnancy, menstruation, and menopause often change a woman's pattern of migraine headaches.
The neurotransmitter serotonin also appears to have a key role in migraines.
Tracking Your Triggers With a Migraine Diary
Hormone changes during pregnancy are not the only thing that can trigger migraine headaches. Most women have a combination of triggers. For instance, stress, skipped meals, and lack of sleep may all trigger a migraine. And something that triggers a migraine one day may not bother you at all the next.
Some migraines last a few hours. Others, if left untreated, could last a full day or even two. Migraines are quite unpredictable. So while pregnancy may make them worse for one woman, they might completely disappear for another.
A headache diary can let you track your particular triggers. This will help your doctor decide on what treatment will work best to relieve your specific symptoms. It may also help you recognize a pattern that tells you which triggers to avoid while you're pregnant.
Each time you have a headache, write down:
- Your specific symptoms: where you feel the pain, what the pain feels like, and any other symptoms such as vomiting or sensitivity to noise, smells, or bright light
- The time your headache started and ended
- Food and beverages you had during the 24 hours before the migraine
- Any change in your environment, such as traveling to a new place, a change in weather, or trying new kinds of food
- Any treatment you tried, and whether it helped or made the headache worse
Common headache triggers include:
- Foods that contain the preservatives MSG (monosodium glutamate) and nitrates
- Aspartame, the sweetener in NutraSweet and Equal
Tests for Migraines
Headaches can be caused by a pregnancy complication called preeclampsia. So your doctor may evaluate you for that condition before making a diagnosis of migraine. Be sure to tell your doctor about all the medications you're taking, including over-the-counter products and natural supplements. Also let your doctor know whether anyone in your family has had migraines.
The doctor often can diagnose migraine from a headache diary and your medical history. CT scans and other radiology tests to rule out other causes of your headaches aren't usually advised in pregnancy. That's because of the potential risks to the fetus.