Chronic Migraine In Pregnancy: What You Should Know

migraine during pregnancy

If you’ve ever had a migraine, you know how crippling the pain can be. This type of headache is usually described as a throbbing pain in the temples, as well as the front and base of the head. It can be very intense, which makes a migraine in pregnancy especially hard to cope with. While expectant mothers are often limited in their treatment options, there are ways to reduce the intensity or frequency of a migraine during pregnancy. This post will cover some of the best methods of migraine treatment during pregnancy.

What is a migraine?

A migraine is one of the most severe types of head pain. Symptoms can build up gradually, but last anywhere from hours to days.

Most often, throbbing occurs on one or both sides of the head. Some patients describe the pain as a pulsing sensation. It can often come along with nausea or vomiting. For many people, aura also occurs before or during a migraine. Aura is a sensation that involves various visual disturbances, such as seeing spots, bright lights, and shapes.

Other examples of migraine symptoms include:

  • Tingling in the arms or legs
  • Vision loss
  • Numbness in the face or one side of the body
  • Difficulty speaking

Patients who suffer from chronic migraines often report certain symptoms one or two days before the onset of their migraine. Doctors refer to this as the prodrome period. Subtle changes that can warn of an upcoming attack may include:

  • Stiffness in the neck
  • Constipation
  • Increased thirst and urination
  • Cravings
  • Mood changes

Can pregnancy cause migraines?

Researchers continue to study the cause of migraines, but genetics, hormones, and environmental factors all likely play a role. Whatever the cause, constricted blood vessels often lead to migraine headaches. These can result from low serotonin, a pain management chemical in the body. Estrogen has also been found to trigger migraines and increase pain.

During pregnancy, your hormones shift as the days, months, and trimesters go on. These hormonal shifts are a key reason why experiencing a migraine during pregnancy is relatively common.

Whether you’ll experience this type of headache during pregnancy is difficult to predict. And, if you already had migraines, studies actually show a potentially beneficial effect of pregnancy on migraine frequency, mainly during the second and third trimester. Many women with menstrual migraines also find their condition improves when they are pregnant, but every case is different.

For some women, though, pregnancy will be the first time they experience a migraine headache.

What are safe migraine treatments during pregnancy?

Pregnancy comes with enough aches and pains. You shouldn’t have to suffer from migraines on a routine basis. Here’s a look at safer and effective methods of migraine treatments during pregnancy.

As always, talk to your doctor about the right option for your specific situation. Always defer to their recommendations for your unique case.

migraine in pregnancy

1. Migraine medications for pregnancy

Most people can take over-the-counter medications without any cause for concern. When you’re expecting, that all changes. There are many medications and even supplements that aren’t safe for your growing baby.

One type of drug that is generally considered safe for pregnant women is acetaminophen, commonly known as Tylenol. Most doctors will approve of the occasional use of Tylenol throughout all three trimesters of pregnancy.

On the other hand, you should avoid aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen. The brand names you may know these drugs as include Advil, Motrin, and Aleve. These drugs are generally unsafe for pregnant women as they could lead to birth defects.

Discuss your migraines with your doctor to learn more about safe medications that could help.

2. A good night’s sleep

Sleep is hard to come by during pregnancy, especially during your third trimester, but it’s very important. Aim for eight hours in bed to ensure at least seven hours of sleep per night. This gives you plenty of time to unwind and relax in order to fall asleep.

Try out a pregnancy pillow to relieve pain and get in a comfortable position. These can be found in various shapes and sizes, depending on your preferences. Doctors also recommend sleeping on your left side to ensure proper blood flow to your heart and growing baby. This may be very difficult for women who slept on their backs or stomachs before pregnancy. A pregnancy pillow can help you get into a comfortable position.

If other symptoms or issues are getting in the way of your sleep routine, talk to your doctor. Many women suffer from extreme cases of heartburn and indigestion that worsens while lying down. Your doctor may recommend over-the-counter medication to treat your symptoms so you can get a better night’s rest.

3. Lifestyle changes

Hormones have an effect on whether you’ll experience a migraine in pregnancy, but there are other contributing external factors. By avoiding possible migraine triggers, you may be able to reduce the frequency or intensity of your migraine headaches.

Some of the most common triggers include:

  • Coffee
  • Alcohol
  • Chocolate
  • Aged cheeses
  • Intense physical activity
  • Stress
  • Abrupt weather changes
  • Sensory stimuli
  • Sleep changes
  • Hunger or dehydration

With these common migraine triggers in mind, consider lifestyle changes during pregnancy. Be sure to take care of your body and avoid things that could prompt a migraine headache. If you do get a migraine, track what triggers may have led to it during your day. You may be able to figure out patterns to reduce those triggers in the future.

4. Prenatal yoga

Yoga provides health benefits for people of all ages, and pregnant women are no exception. This form of exercise can boost circulation and loosen your muscles. Some poses can help you prevent headaches, while others may be used at the first sign of a migraine.

In addition to the physical benefits, yoga is a unique form of meditation that can help calm your mind. Stress can be a major contributor to migraine in pregnancy. Practicing yoga can help you take control of anxiety, depression, and stress, all of which could trigger migraines.

Look for a studio that has prenatal yoga classes created with pregnant women in mind. These unique classes and specialized teachers will ensure that you’re practicing yoga safely. If you can’t find prenatal yoga classes near you, take a gentle yoga class. Talk with the instructor before class begins. Let them know you’re pregnant and ask for pose modifications when necessary.

5. Meditation

As previously mentioned, stress is a common migraine trigger. Women juggling work, family life, and the anticipation of a new baby may experience higher levels of stress and anxiety.

While it’s easier said than done, keeping stress to a minimum is essential during these 40 weeks. Meditation is one way to focus your mind on positive things that will keep you feeling healthy. Yoga and other activities that promote mindfulness may reduce feelings of depression during and after pregnancy. Just 30 minutes per day can do the trick.

Not sure where to start? Direct your gaze at a point directly in front of you (or simply close your eyes). Slowly breathe, focusing on each inhale and exhale with intention. Stay in the moment and continue to focus on your breath even if your mind begins to wander. You may do this in complete silence or with soothing sounds, a guided program, or music.

6. Temperature therapy

Hot and cold therapy is an easy and often effective way to treat various forms of pain. From sore muscles to swelling, temperature therapy can calm sources pain, migraines included.

For a migraine in pregnancy, an ice pack or cold compress is typically the best way to find relief. The simple numbing effect of a cold pack can help some patients feel more at ease.

While cold therapy is typically recommended for a migraine, others may find relief from hot therapy. This can be in the form of a hot pack, heating pad, or a warm bath/shower. In general, this is a better remedy for tension headaches because the warmth allows your muscles to loosen up.

Talk to your doctor about this type of treatment to decide whether hot or cold therapy is best for your head pain.

7. Massage

Migraines and other form of head pain are often a result of tension in the neck, back, and shoulders. When you’re pregnant, there is even more stress put on the body due to your growing belly.

Prenatal massage is a form of complementary care that can work wonders for aches and pains, as well as migraine headaches. Massaging trigger points around the head, neck, and shoulders can relax muscle spasms and tension. It can even improve blood flow and reduce swelling.

There are many spas and massage centers that offer prenatal massages tailored to pregnant women. Many of them even have special pillows, wedges, and massage tables. These are designed to get you into the best position for where you are in your pregnancy.

8. Chiropractic care

A chiropractor can help with a range of pregnancy-related issues. They most often make adjustments to help with pain in the back, pelvis, and hips, but alignment can have an effect on other parts of the body, too.

Through various massage techniques focused on trigger points within the back, neck, shoulders, and head, many patients report finding head pain relief from chiropractic care. In addition, a gentle adjustment can help relax tense muscles that may eventually lead to a migraine in pregnancy.

Look for a chiropractor with experience performing prenatal adjustments. As always, consult with your OB/GYN before seeking any type of migraine treatment during pregnancy.

9. Acupuncture

While you’re probably tired of the poking that comes along with pregnancy appointments, you may also consider acupuncture for migraine relief. This form of treatment involves a practitioner inserting thin needles into specific points to correct imbalances in the body.

Acupuncture points generally correspond to nerves that may be activated by the needle prick. This prompts your brain to release endorphins, which lessens pain signals. In the case of a migraine during pregnancy, this can be a particularly noninvasive form of treatment.

Acupuncture is often credited with helping women with many other common pregnancy issues. This includes morning sickness, depression, lower back pain, pelvic pain, hip pain, and insomnia.

Though this type of treatment is generally considered safe for pregnant women, talk with your doctor before making an appointment. As always, do extensive research before choosing an acupuncture specialist. Search for someone who has experience working with pregnant patients.

When should I see my doctor for a migraine in pregnancy?

It’s important to be open with your doctor about how you’re feeling throughout your pregnancy. Symptoms that seem minor could be a sign of something serious. Be open and honest about how you’re feeling during every appointment with your OB/GYN.

Some cases may warrant an immediate call to your doctor, though. If you’re experiencing any of the following symptoms with your migraine, seek medical attention right away:

  • A fever
  • Dizziness, blurred vision, or blind spots
  • Severe pain that persists for several hours and/or is recurring

While it is normal for some women to experience their first migraine during pregnancy, also consider your medical history. If you’ve never been one to get headaches, but are dealing with chronic migraines and pregnancy, talk with your doctor. In rare, but serious cases, a migraine during pregnancy can be a symptom of bigger complications.

Get help with chronic migraines during pregnancy

Pregnancy is a time of excitement and anticipation. Don’t let pain rob you of your joy during these special months. Talk with your doctor about how you’re feeling throughout your pregnancy, especially if you’re suffering from migraines. Once your doctor rules out serious underlying causes, discuss the option of visiting a pain specialist.

At Arizona Pain, your safety and comfort is important to us. We have pain doctors and chiropractors that will work together as a team to develop a comprehensive approach to manage your pain.

At Arizona Pain, we can work through different types of migraine treatments to find an option that is both safe and effective for you. If you’re in Arizona, get in touch with us today.