Migraine and Pregnancy: How They Are Related

Migraine is a very common neurological disorder. Of every 4 people who suffer from it, 3 are women, according to data provided by the Office of Women's Health.
Migraine and Pregnancy: How They Are Related

Last update: 15 February, 2023

As reported by the Office on Women’s Health (OASH), women between the ages of 20 and 45 are more likely to get migraines than men. It isn’t yet known why, but the truth is that everything seems to indicate that women tend to suffer from it more frequently. This is one of the reasons why many women wonder about what happens in cases of migraine and pregnancy.

During pregnancy, the body undergoes many types of changes, many of them simultaneously. Some may be more intense than others, but the truth is that all, to a greater or lesser extent, influence the day-to-day life of women.

In the midst of so many changes, migraines can occur. At this point, the concern of many pregnant women is how much the migraine will affect their pregnancy? Could it be a sign that something is wrong with the baby’s health? Can it affect them both in the long run? Is there any migraine treatment available?

Migraine and fertility

Fertility, migraine and pregnancy
Migraine may have an effect on female fertility. However, the exact mechanisms that explain this phenomenon are still unknown.

Although the exact origin of migraines is unknown, it’s considered to be a neurological disorder involving several factors such as genetics, lifestyle, and environmental factors. In the case of women, hormonal activity seems to play a key role.

The MSD Manual indicates that estrogens (female sex hormones) could be a clue to the origin of migraine in women. More specifically, its increase (as it occurs during puberty) or natural fluctuation (as it occurs before, during, or after menstruation).

OASH experts clarify that it isn’t known with certainty what the relationship is between the menstrual cycle and migraine. However, it seems that the sudden drop in the level of hormones such as progesterone and estrogens (which control chemicals in the brain that influence pain perception) may be related.

When it comes to fertility, no evidence has been found to indicate that migraine can affect it as such. However, the stress caused by migraines may have some impact on fertility. More studies are needed by researchers to confirm or rule out this idea.

Women report stronger and longer migraines (with or without aura), as well as more frequent complaints, especially nausea and vomiting.

Could it be hereditary?

According to a review published by the Colombian Association of Neurology:

“Migraine occurs more frequently in some family groups. Its genetic transmission doesn’t follow a behavior in accordance with the laws of Mendelian inheritance; it involves multiple factors, which are modulated by the environment.”

This means that while migraine appears to have a genetic component, it isn’t just genes that cause migraine. These are modulated by environmental factors. Thus, even when a person may be predisposed to suffering from migraine, if certain situations don’t occur throughout their life, they may not suffer from them.

Migraine and pregnancy

As for the relationship between migraine and pregnancy, experts agree that in most cases there is no cause for concern. Yes, the symptoms can be very annoying in some cases, but with self-care and the doctor’s instructions, they can be controlled.

“It’s accepted that migraines as such don’t influence pregnancy, nor do they increase the risk of miscarriages, nor that of fetal malformations”. So says a bibliographic review published in the journal Clinic and Research in Gynecology and Obstetrics .

The MSD Manual explains that migraines become less severe as pregnancy progresses, when estrogen levels are relatively stable. However, once the woman gives birth, the estrogens decrease again and the migraine flares up.

Migraines in pregnancy can be related to various factors, from lack of sleep, hunger, caffeine withdrawal, physical or emotional stress to high blood pressure, low blood sugar or even muscle tension due to inadequate postural hygiene.

Can migraine headaches be treated during pregnancy?

Migraine and pregnancy: drugs are limited
Unfortunately, many of the medications used to treat migraines cannot be used during pregnancy.

When it comes to treating migraine headaches in pregnancy, it’s important to follow your doctor’s instructions as not all medications are approved. The use of acetaminophen could be appropriate, but provided that the professional authorizes it.

Opioid medications are totally contraindicated in pregnancy, as they could have serious consequences for both mother and baby, such as premature delivery, stillbirth, and birth defects.

We must avoid resorting to any form of self-medication. Likewise, it isn’t advisable to resort to any type of therapy (pharmacological or natural) without consulting with the doctor first, since the risk of suffering health problems is high.

And how could it be alleviated or prevented?

For migraine relief during pregnancy, it’s recommended to apply cold compresses, get enough rest and sleep, apply relaxation techniques and, if the woman so wishes, take advantage of cognitive behavioral therapy.

For the rest, when it comes to preventing migraine attacks, the same measures that are recommended for the general population can be used. Maintaining good lifestyle habits is always good, and even more so when it comes to preventing migraines.

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