Black women already have a list of pregnancy complications they need to watch out for. Now, a new study says a history of migraine headaches could make a woman even more prone to pregnancy complications, such as issues with blood pressure or preterm birth.
“We now know migraines may be an underrecognized risk factor for adverse pregnancy outcomes,” says study co-author Dr. Natalie Bello, director of hypertension research in the Smidt Heart Institute at Cedars-Sinai in Los Angeles.
“The reason for these associations remains unclear, but we suspect they might be related to pathways of inflammation, blood vessel dysfunction or increased risk for blood clots,” Bello said in a Cedars-Sinai news release.
What the study shows
For the study, the researchers used information from a U.S. National Institutes of Health-funded database. They followed nearly 10,000 volunteers through pregnancy, labor and delivery. Adverse outcomes were defined as gestational hypertension (high blood pressure), preeclampsia or eclampsia, preterm birth, delivery of a small-for-gestational-age infant or stillbirth.
Preeclampsia is a serious high blood pressure condition that develops during pregnancy or just after delivery. Gestational hypertension is when a woman’s blood pressure is newly elevated during pregnancy. These are two of the most common blood pressure-related disorders during pregnancy. Both can increase a woman’s risk of heart disease, heart failure and stroke later in life.
Women in the study reported any personal history of migraine headaches, including pre-pregnancy, in their first trimester.
The researchers compared characteristics between participants who did and did not report a migraine history, including health issues such as obesity, recent smoking, chronic high blood pressure, chronic kidney disease, pre-gestational diabetes and autoimmune disorders.
About 19% of the 9,450 participants reported a diagnosis of migraine at their first visit. Those women were also more likely to report they had a recent smoking history, autoimmune disorders and chronic kidney disease.
The investigators found that the study participants who reported a migraine history also had higher chances of developing high blood pressure disorders during pregnancy, as well as both medically indicated and spontaneous preterm birth.
Delving deeper, the team found a larger effect in participants who reported recent use of medication for migraine.
So what can be done to combat this?
Tips for relieving pregnancy headaches
Headaches during pregnancy are common, especially during the first and third trimester, however, there are ways to successfully avoid or prevent them:
- Get plenty of rest. We know it may be harder to get a good night’s rest during your pregnancy, but sleep is key to your physical and mental health. If you are finding it extremely challenging, try a prenatal pillow.
- Drink plenty of water. We all need to stay hydrated, but pregnant moms require more water than the average person. Not to mention, adequate fluid intake is important for your growing baby as well.
- Eat regular, well-balanced meals. To prevent low blood sugar, eat small meals throughout the day and steer clear of sugar, soda and candy.
- Get a prenatal massage. A full-body massage is perfect for relieving tension in the muscles of your neck, shoulders and back.
- Use warm compresses on head, neck and shoulders.
- Avoid triggers. Keep a journal. Who said journals are only for jotting down our deepest, darkest secrets? Journaling can help you identify specific triggers so you can learn what to avoid.
- Try exercise and relaxation techniques. Regular exercise can reduce stress and boost your overall mood. Before getting started, check with your doctor first to ensure it is safe.
When to see a doctor
Although pregnancy headaches are common, it is important to keep an open line of communication with your doctor. You should notify your doctor if you experience new headaches that present after 20 weeks, a sudden onset of severe headaches, headaches associated with a fever, mental health changes, elevated blood pressure and vision changes. This could be a sign of something more serious that your doctor needs to address.