Safe Tips to Treat Headaches During Pregnancy

Safe Meds

Fortunately, not all pain relievers are off-limits. That's happy news for Kim Battista, of Bridgeport, Connecticut, who has battled headaches throughout two pregnancies. "I've had three sinus infections in the last four months," she says. "It hasn't been fun!" Battista used to treat a headache by popping an Advil and resting for 20 minutes. "But when you have a 16-month-old at home, there's no resting," she says. "And when you're pregnant, there's no Advil!"

It's true: doctors advise against pain relievers like ibuprofen (Advil), naproxen (Aleve), and aspirin. They also discourage taking other common headache (and migraine) medications containing triptans (such as Imitrex, Amerge, and Relpax). But most healthcare providers are comfortable prescribing acetaminophen (Tylenol) within dosing guidelines. (Dr. Aurora suggests taking no more than two or three 500-milligram tablets a week.)

If your doctor determines that you need something stronger, she might also suggest a prescription medication that contains both acetaminophen and a mild narcotic or sedative (Darvocet or Fioricet). "In the beginning, I really tried not to take medicine," says Battista. "But once I gave in and took Fioricet, I realized I was much better off."

If you opt for a pill, take it as soon as you feel the pain coming on. Says Dr. Aurora, "Once a headache is prolonged, the nerves [that are causing the pain] become more active." But first check with your doctor, who knows your medical history and what other drugs you may be taking. If the pain is severe and/or accompanied by nausea or vision loss, your doctor will want to see you immediately. You may have a more serious issue, like preeclampsia (a pregnancy disorder involving high blood pressure). Or, in very rare cases, pregnancy can bring a previously unknown health condition to light. For example, someone with a vascular lesion on the brain might never show symptoms of this condition until she gets pregnant -- when the increased blood pressure of pregnancy affects her condition. In such an unlikely instance, you would be admitted to the hospital for further monitoring.

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