Headaches in Early Pregnancy
Nearly all women have occasional headaches, but having a headache in pregnancy is
not fun. And, managing headaches is especially tricky in the first trimester when
you should avoid many medicines. Whether your headache is from tension or is a full-blown
migraine, there are some things you should know.
What causes headaches in pregnancy?
The exact cause of a headache isn’t always clear. In the first trimester, changing
hormone levels and blood volume may play a role. A dull, overall headache can come
with stress, fatigue, and eyestrain. Sinus headaches may be more likely because of
the nasal congestion and runny nose that are common in early pregnancy. Hunger and
low levels of blood sugar can trigger headaches, too. Women who suddenly stop their
morning coffee and sodas may experience caffeine withdrawal headaches. Those who also
suffer with nausea and vomiting in early pregnancy can become dehydrated. This can
also bring on a headache.
Migraine headaches are a common type of headache in pregnancy. These painful, throbbing
headaches are usually felt on one side of the head and result from expansion of the
blood vessels in the brain. The misery is sometimes accompanied by nausea, vomiting,
and sensitivity to light. A small percentage of women with migraines also have an
aura with the migraine. They see flashes of light or feel tingling in their arms and
When should I be concerned?
When a headache is severe, or just doesn’t go away, or when you have dizziness, blurred
vision, or changes in your field of vision, you should contact your healthcare provider. Headaches
can sometimes be related to blood pressure problems in pregnancy. If they are persistent
or severe and happen after 20 weeks of pregnancy, let your healthcare provider know.
Although strokes during pregnancy are rare, migraines can increase a pregnant woman’s
risk for them. If you have migraines, report them to your healthcare provider.
What can I do about headaches?
Steps to manage headaches include the following:
Avoid any known headache triggers, including allergens and certain foods, like monosodium
glutamate, cured meats, and strong cheeses.
Smoking is never a good idea in pregnancy. You should also avoid secondhand smoke.
Try to eat well and drink plenty of fluids, especially if you are prone to morning
Reduce your stress level. Try a massage or cold pack to help with tension headaches.
If your headache is a migraine, rest in a cool, dark room with no noise, and try using
warm or cold compresses or an ice pack.
There is good news, however. Most women have fewer headaches during pregnancy, especially
after the first trimester. And those with a history of migraines often find there
is improvement during pregnancy.