If you’re pregnant and having headaches, you’re not alone. A medical review reports that 39 percent of pregnant and postpartum women have headaches.

Though during pregnancy you may have a different kind of headache than you usually do, most headaches during pregnancy aren’t harmful.

Headache pain during the first trimester of pregnancy may happen for different reasons than headaches in the second or third trimester. In some cases, headache pain may be a sign of other health problems during pregnancy.

Tell your doctor about any headache you have during, before, and after pregnancy. Keep a journal to record how often you have headaches and how serious the pain is. Additionally, record any other symptoms you have.

Most headaches during pregnancy are primary headaches. This means that the headache pain happens by itself. It’s not a sign or symptom of another disorder or a complication in the pregnancy. Primary headaches include:

About 26 percent of headaches during pregnancy are tension headaches. Tell your doctor if you have chronic headaches or migraine during pregnancy or if you have a history of migraine.

Some women with a history of migraine get fewer migraine attacks during pregnancy. Migraine has also been linked to complications that happen later in pregnancy or after the birth of your baby.

Secondary headaches are a caused by a complication in the pregnancy, such as high blood pressure.

Headache pain may vary from one person to the next. You may have:

  • dull ache
  • throbbing or pulsating pain
  • severe pain on one or both sides
  • sharp pain behind one or both eyes

Migraine pain may also include:

  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • seeing lines or flashes of light
  • blind spots

First trimester

Tension headaches are common in the first trimester of your pregnancy. This may happen because your body is undergoing several changes at this time. These changes may trigger headache pain:

  • hormonal changes
  • higher blood volume
  • weight changes

Common causes of headache pain during the first trimester of pregnancy also include:

  • dehydration
  • nausea and vomiting
  • stress
  • lack of sleep
  • caffeine withdrawal
  • poor nutrition
  • low blood sugar levels
  • too little physical activity
  • sensitivity to light
  • changes in vision

Some foods may also cause headaches. Your trigger foods may change during pregnancy. Common foods that may cause headaches in some people include:

  • dairy
  • chocolate
  • cheese
  • yeast
  • tomatoes

Second and third trimester

Headaches during your second and third trimester may have different causes. These include:

  • extra weight
  • posture
  • too little sleep
  • diet
  • muscle strain and tightness
  • high blood pressure
  • diabetes

High blood pressure

Headaches during your second or third trimester of pregnancy may be a sign that you have high blood pressure. About 6 to 8 percent of pregnant women ages 20 to 44 in the United States have high blood pressure.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warns that this treatable condition can cause serious complications for both mother and baby. This is most common after week 20 of pregnancy.

If you’re pregnant, high blood pressure can raise the risk of:

Treatment for hypertension during pregnancy

Your doctor may prescribe medication to treat your high blood pressure. You’ll also need to cut down on salt and add more fiber to your daily diet. Regular exercise is also very important to help balance your blood pressure.

Other causes of headache during pregnancy include common infections and more serious illnesses:

Talk to your doctor before taking your regular headache pain medication during pregnancy. Don’t take aspirin and ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin etc.).

The CDC warns that these pain relief drugs can be harmful to your growing baby, especially if taken during the first trimester. Many women may take acetaminophen (Tylenol) during pregnancy. However, some studies suggest there may be effects from taking acetaminophen as well.

Your doctor can recommend alternative medications to treat headache during pregnancy and natural headache remedies, such as:

  • drinking plenty of water
  • rest
  • ice pack
  • heating pad
  • massage
  • exercise and stretching
  • essential oils, such as peppermint, rosemary, and chamomile
When to see your doctor

See your doctor if you have any headache pain at all during pregnancy. Get urgent medical attention if you have:

  • fever
  • nausea and vomiting
  • blurred vision
  • severe pain
  • headache that lasts longer than a few hours
  • frequent headache pain
  • fainting
  • seizure

Your doctor may recommend tests and scans to find out the cause of your headaches. These include:

  • checking your blood pressure
  • blood test
  • blood sugar test
  • vision test
  • ultrasound of the head and neck
  • heart or head scan
  • checking eye health with a scope
  • spine puncture

Headache pain during pregnancy is common. You may have tension headaches during your first trimester of pregnancy. This may happen because of the many changes that you’re going through in a short period.

Headache pain may happen in the second and third period of your pregnancy for other reasons. Some causes of headaches in your mid to late pregnancy may be serious.

High blood pressure is a serious cause of headache pain during pregnancy. You can have high blood pressure at any time in your pregnancy. You may not have any symptoms at all. Check your blood pressure at least once a day with a home monitor.

Tell your doctor if you have headaches at any time in your pregnancy. Let your doctor know right away if you have a personal or family history of migraine, high blood pressure, seizures or diabetes.

Take all medications and treatment exactly as prescribed by your doctor. Follow all diet and exercise advice carefully. See your doctor for all follow-up and regular check-ups. Most causes of headaches during pregnancy are treatable or preventable with the right care.

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