Headaches During Pregnancy: When to Worry

Headaches During Pregnancy: When to Worry

Everyone experiences a headache from time to time, and pregnant women are no exception.  For most people, most of the time, headaches are innocuous. The same is true for pregnant women--most of the time.  But in some cases, headaches during pregnancy can be a symptom of a more serious medical problem that requires immediate medical attention.  For this reason, it is important to understand the different types of headaches, what causes headaches, and when to seek urgent care for headaches.

Types of Headaches

Pregnant women experience the same types of headaches as other people, such as:

  • Migraine headaches: debilitating headaches that may last for days.  They may be accompanied by sensitivity to light and sound.
  • Sinus headaches: pressure and pain in the forehead and sinus areas caused by mucus buildup, possibly due to allergies.
  • Cluster headaches: a series of one to four headaches, one after another, that cause intense pain and may last for 15 minutes to three hours each.  That pain may be felt behind the eyes or on one side of the face and may be accompanied by swelling, flushing, sweating, nasal congestion, and eye tearing on the affected side of the face.
  • Tension headaches: diffused dull, aching pain throughout the head that may be accompanied by tenderness in the neck and shoulder muscles, forehead, and scalp.

What Causes Headaches in Pregnant Women?

Often, there is no known cause for a headache.  But many times, headaches in pregnant women have the same causes as in non-pregnant people.  Sinus headaches are often caused by allergies or sinus congestion brought on by an illness.  Tension headaches may be caused by stress.  But pregnant women do experience biological changes that can bring on a headache.  Common causes of headaches in pregnant women include:

  • Hormonal fluctuations
  • Muscle tension in the head, neck, and back
  • Sinus congestion
  • Dehydration
  • Caffeine withdrawal
  • Low blood pressure
  • Migraine
  • Hunger
  • Stress

When To Worry About a Headache During Pregnancy

While most headaches during pregnancy are benign, there are three conditions that can cause a headache during pregnancy that require medical attention: sinusitis, preeclampsia, and neurological conditions.

  • Sinusitis: also known as a sinus infection, sinusitis can cause a sinus headache and is often accompanied by a fever and overall feeling of being achy and sick.  Sinusitis can be treated with antibiotics, so seek out a medical professional if you have a sinus headache.
  • Preeclampsia: a serious condition that, if left untreated, can lead to eclampsia, a condition that can cause blindness, seizures, coma, and death.  Preeclampsia typically develops during the second trimester.  SIgns include high blood pressure, protein in the urine, and swelling of the feet and legs.  Some women with preeclampsia experience headaches and nausea, blurred vision, blind spots, or dizziness.  Stay on the safe side and seek medical attention if you experience any of these symptoms during pregnancy.
  • Neurological problems: on rare occasions, a severe headache during pregnancy can be a sign of a neurological problem such as a stroke.  This type of headache tends to come on suddenly and causes extreme pain, often described by sufferers as the worst headache of their lives.  A headache that is accompanied by neurological symptoms such as blurred vision or numbness may also indicate a serious neurological problem.  Because of the possible severity of the problem, seek medical treatment if you experience these symptoms during pregnancy.

If you are pregnant and looking for urgent care in the East Bay Area, call BASS Urgent Care today.