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Headaches During Pregnancy

woman in pain

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"Headaches are a common complaint in pregnancy," says Diane Christopher, M.D., an ob-gyn in Boulder, CO. Stress and dehydration are common triggers. Headaches can haunt you during your first trimester because of a surge in hormones and an increase in blood flow throughout your body, explains Giuseppe Ramunno, M.D., an ob-gyn at East Valley Women's Medical Group in Mesa, AZ. During your third trimester, headaches tend to be related to poor posture and tension from carrying extra weight. In rare cases, headaches can signal a serious underlying medical condition. Consult our guide to learn all the causes of headaches during pregnancy, ways to prevent them, and when to call the doctor.

Causes

Many of the things that can cause a headache when you're not pregnant can cause one when you're expecting. Common, benign culprits include:

  • Fluctuating hormones
  • Tight muscles in the head, neck, and back
  • Sinus congestion
  • Dehydration
  • Caffeine withdrawal
  • Low blood pressure
  • Migraine
  • Hunger
  • Stress

Occasionally, a headache can be a sign of a more serious medical problem, including:

  • Preeclampsia, a serious hypertensive disease
  • Sinusitis, which requires antibiotics
  • Neurological disease (very rare)

Treatment for Mild Headaches

Drink a tall glass of water and rest, Dr. Christopher recommends. If your headache persists, is severe, or is accompanied by any of the symptoms listed in the next section, call your doctor.

When to Call the Doctor

Call you doctor right away if you get a headache along with any of these symptoms:

  • Difficulty speaking, loss of movement, or numbness or tingling in your arms or legs
  • Sudden onset of severe pain
  • Pain in the right upper portion of the abdomen
  • Loss of control of urine or stool
  • New or worsening pain, or pain that's persistent
  • Changes in your vision
  • Sudden weight gain, and/or swelling in the hands and face

Headaches During Pregnancy: When to Worry
Headaches  During Pregnancy: When to Worry

Prevention

Help keep headaches away with these expert tips:

  • Pinpoint your headache triggers. Keep track of your meals and activities, as well as when a headache strikes, to help you learn how to modify headache-causing habits.
  • Exercise. Take a daily walk or do prenatal yoga, if permitted by your doctor.
  • Practice relaxation exercises, such as deep breathing, yoga, and visualization.
  • Eat small, frequent meals throughout the day to keep your blood sugar on an even keel.
  • Drink plenty of fluids to stay hydrated.
  • Follow a regular sleep schedule. Go to bed and wake up at about the same time every day, even on weekends.
  • Maintain good posture to help prevent muscle tension.

Copyright © 2012 Meredith Corporation.