Pregnancy Headaches

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last review date: November 2010

During pregnancy, women can experience a range of symptoms. Headaches, particularly in the first and third trimester, are a common symptom during pregnancy.

Hormones play a role in headaches. During pregnancy, levels of the hormone estrogen rise. The elevated estrogen can help relieve head pain some people who suffer from regular headaches. In others, the additional hormones and other changes can cause headaches during pregnancy.

Most studies show that women who suffer from severe migraines find relief while pregnant.

A 2002 Canadian study of 1,101 pregnant women, just 36 of them experienced headaches for the first time. Most of the women, who had headaches before becoming pregnant found that the headaches improved or disappeared during the second and third trimester.n

Potential causes of pregnancy headaches

  • Dehydration
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Low blood sugar
  • Caffeine withdrawal
  • Stress

More serious causes of headaches during pregnancy

  • Pre-eclampsia or eclampsia, which causes high blood pressure, head pain on both sides, throbbing pain and is made worse by physical activity
  • Lymphocytic hypophysitis, enlargement of the pituitary gland which is associated with pregnant women ages 30 to 40; it typically develops at the end of pregnancy or up to one year post-partum

Facts about Headaches and Pregnancy

  • Some new headaches arise during pregnancy
  • Certain types of headaches such as tension headaches or migraines actually get better during pregnancy
  • More than 60% of women with migraines find they have fewer attacks when pregnant
  • One 2002 study showed that women who were pregnant for the first time had fewer headaches during the pregnancy and in the period afterward
  • In the same study, women who had been pregnant multiple times had headaches increase in the third trimester

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