Headaches During Pregnancy: Causes and Treatment

Headaches while pregnant are quite a frequent companion of a mother-to-be. According to statistics, headaches affect one in five pregnant women.

The pain may be a symptom of a variety of pathological conditions. Thus, its’ characteristics will be different. Such characteristics like the nature of the pain, its localization (occipital, temporal, or frontal area), the duration, and the conditions under which the pain occurs, increases and weakens play very important roles.

Pregnancy headaches can be primary, i.e. not associated with the passage of some other disease, and secondary, when the pain in the head is one of the symptoms of the underlying disease.

Causes of Headaches During Pregnancy

The most common cause of a headache during pregnancy is a migraine. It is a neurological disorder that typically develops at a young age, characterized by the appearance of repeated headaches and visual impairment, and gastrointestinal disorders. When a pregnant woman has a migraine, the headache goes on because of the change of vascular tone of the head and the production of biologically active substances, such as serotonin, change.

In women, the migraine disease occurs 2-3 times more often than in men. Women who have a migraine, often feel pain on one side of the head, the headache is accompanied by nausea, vomiting, vision disorders. The pain is usually severe, throbbing. In the classical form of a migraine headache may be preceded by the so-called aura, manifested in the appearance of “flies” or flashes in front of the eyes and the change in skin sensitivity of the different areas of the body.


The migraine attacks may often be triggered by certain factors, which may include:

  • Nutritional Factors: hunger, eating foods containing tyramine and phenylamine (nitrogen compounds that may affect the condition of vessels): cheese, chocolate, citrus fruits, red wine
  • Physical Stimuli: flickering light, noise, sharp smell
  • Changes in weather or climate zone
  • Stressful conditions
  • Physical fatigue, lack of sleep

It should be noted that women who suffer from migraine attacks often report a decrease in the frequency and severity of attacks of the disease with the onset of pregnancy, especially in the second trimester. This is due to changes in hormonal levels, decreasing fluctuations in hormone levels in the blood (which is typical of a normal menstrual cycle).

In addition to a common migraine, there is a tension headache. Commonly, it is the pain of the average intensity that covers the entire head and compresses it as a hoop. Such pain is related to stress physical or emotional tension. In some cases, tension headache may be caused by overexertion of muscles of the neck and upper body during prolonged work in an awkward, forced position. In this case, the pain starts from the back, neck and spreads to the entire head.

The cause of headaches can be hypotension – low blood pressure. This is typical for the first trimester of pregnancy, especially if it is complicated by the development of early toxicity of a pregnant woman.

Another possible reason is hypertension – high blood pressure, which is a symptom of a serious disease of pregnancy – late toxicosis (preeclampsia), often associated with edema and the appearance of protein in the urine.

A headache can also be the result of cerebral blood flow during cervical osteochondrosis, vascular dystonia, and so on.

It is worth mentioning that a headache can be a sign of serious diseases such as meningitis (inflammation of the meninges), hematoma or bleeding in the lining of the brain, a hematoma of the brain substance, glaucoma (increased intraocular pressure), sinusitis (inflammation of the sinuses). In all these cases it is usually a question of new-onset severe headache, accompanied by the other symptoms, which are typical for each specific disease. Therefore, if a high-intensity pain appeared for the first time, be sure to consult your doctor.

What to Drink When You Have a Headache

Drug treatment of headaches during pregnancy is very limited because most of the drugs that relieve a headache have a negative impact on the course of pregnancy and the formation of the fetus. Furthermore, the treatment depends on the cause of headaches.

Some people can cope with the bout of a headache in a dark ventilated room, in silence, lying in a comfortable position. Usually, the pain goes away after a short sleep.

Light scalp massage can also help with a headache during pregnancy. You need to do circular motions with your fingertips and be relaxed.

Another means of the first non-pharmacological care is washing the head with warm water or putting a hot towel on the forehead, or wherever the pain is located

You can apply compresses with leaves of fresh cabbage, which should be lightly mashed until they become juicy. You should keep the compress should until the end of a headache.

You can try to tie a scarf or a shawl on the head and tighten it to feel pressure until you feel better.

Decoctions of mint, lemon balm, rose hips, chamomile has Calming and analgesic effects. They can be brewed and drunk as tea. In some cases, especially when you have low blood pressure, a headache can be relieved with strong sweet tea.

Currently, there are specific drugs for the treatment of a migraine. The use of some of them during pregnancy is possible, but only on prescription.

Be sure to consult a doctor if:

  • A headache has become almost permanent and recently changed its character
  • A headache appears even in the morning, immediately after waking
  • constant pain is localized in a particular area of the head
  • a headache is accompanied by other symptoms of the nervous system, impaired vision, hearing, speech “motor function” of sensitivity, and so on
  • the pain is accompanied by high or low blood pressure

Preventing Headaches During Pregnancy

First of all, it is necessary to track the factors that trigger the appearance of a headache during pregnancy. For this purpose, we recommend keeping a diary of a headache. Comparing episodes of headaches with other factors over a period of time, you will be able to identify starting points of attack.

In addition to the listed cheese and chocolate, also various food colorants, preservatives, monosodium glutamate, contained in most spices and Asian dishes, as well as sausages, nuts, chicken liver, avocados, and any cold foods can trigger a migraine attack. If you have a connection between the consumption of these products and the development of an attack of a headache during pregnancy, these products should be excluded from the diet.

Eating when hungry in pregnancy is essential – hunger can also cause a headache. It is useful to carry biscuits, dried fruit, some fruit for a snack if necessary. These products increase blood sugar levels, eliminating hunger.

A headache during pregnancy is triggered by stress, so a pregnant woman should sleep enough. It is important to sleep enough, but about the same number of hours every day. Sometimes a headache may occur with a significant increase in sleep time.

Try to have some more rest and spend some time walking in the fresh air. If you have to work a lot in one position, try to get up, stretch and walk around a room every 30 minutes.

Avoid noisy companies, loud and sharp sounds, TV, any abrupt sounds and smells: all this can provoke the appearance of headaches.

To prevent headaches, water treatments are recommended: warm hygienic shower, swimming in the pool.