Battling headaches during pregnancy can be tricky. Here's what the experts say you should do when faced with a migraine.

By Dr. Laura Riley
Izusek/Getting Images

If you've ever had migraines, you know how debilitating they can be. Unfortunately, migraines can strike in pregnancy even if you've never had a migraine before, and they can occur more frequently in women who have had them before.

Migraine symptoms may include throbbing head pain (usually on one side of the head), nausea, vomiting, and sensitivity to light and sound. Some people experience an aura, which means they see light flashes, zigzag lines, or shimmering lights before the onset of the headache. Some experience temporary vision loss or have blind spots.Scientists have found that migraines are often triggered by certain things, although the triggers are not the same for everyone. Some of the most common triggers of migraines include:

  • Diet: aged cheese, red wine, figs, smoked fish, chocolate, monosodium glutamate (MSG), meats containing nitrates (hot dogs, bacon, salami, pepperoni), onions, nuts, peanut butter, dairy products, and foods that contain caffeine
     
  • Environment: bright lights, smoke, changes in the weather, allergies
     
  • Emotions: stress, anxiety
     
  • Activity: irregular exercise, change in sleep pattern
     
  • Hormonal activity: pregnancy, birth control pills, menstrual periods

If you get a migraine, lie down in a dark, quiet room with a cool cloth on your head. It's OK to take acetaminophen but stay away from ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), aspirin, naproxen (Aleve), and other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). Migraines usually go away in a few hours, although some last for two or three days.

If the pain is terrible and you don't feel better in a couple of hours, call your doctor. There are several kinds of medications that help relieve migraines; however, most require a prescription. Some women find that exercise and relaxation techniques help.

Here's some good news: A National Headache Foundation survey found that many women report a decrease in headache frequency and severity as their pregnancies progress. That's probably because hormone levels start to stabilize during the 2nd and 3rd trimesters.

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