Headaches are among common medical complaints, and most people experience them at some point in their life. However, during pregnancy and the postpartum period, headaches can be associated with more serious life-threatening issues. Any headache, but especially pounding, throbbing pain in the head, especially if it appears all of a sudden (thunderclap) is not something a pregnant and postbirth mother can ignore. The headache could be normal but occasionally however a headache can be a sign of a more serious condition such as preeclampsia or brain abnormalities.
When to see the doctor
Any headache during pregnancy and postbirth postpartum can be a symptom of more serious and life-threatening conditions.
All severe headaches during pregnancy and postbirth postpartum can be a symptom of more serious and life-threatening conditions. Complications that are untreated can be associated with abnormal vessels in the brain (aneurysms) or elevated blood pressure like preeclampsia and may lead to brain bleeding, a stroke, or infections in the brain such as meningitis or encephalitis.
You should call your doctor or immediately go to a hospital or call 911 or your local emergency number if you have:
- The worst headache of your life (eg "thunderclap headaches")
- A sudden, severe headache or
- A headache accompanied by:
- Trouble seeing, speaking, walking
- Confusion or trouble understanding speech
- Elevated blood pressure (above 140/90 mmHg)
- High fever, greater than 102 F to 104 F (39 C to 40 C)
- Numbness, weakness or paralysis on one side of your body
- A stiff neck
- Nausea or vomiting (if not clearly related to the flu or a hangover)
Thunderclap headaches during pregnancy or postpartum
Thunderclap headaches are exactly what they sound like. They appear all of a sudden, unexpectedly like a clap of thunder. These unexpected and sudden, and intense headaches peak quickly in less than a minute and can take up to one hour before they disappear. though they can last for many days.
Thunderclap headaches are uncommon, but when they appear they can be a warning sign of potentially life-threatening conditions. Life-threatening conditions include bleeding in and around the brain. It is important that you seek immediate emergency medical attention if you experience a thunderclap headache.
Causes of nonemergent headaches during pregnancy
Though it may seem redundant, hormones and stress can be the cause of most headaches during pregnancy and postbirth. The majority of the time, the female body is not flooded with hormones that change the physical shape and composition of the body. During pregnancy, hormones are responsible for many positive changes that keep you and your baby healthy, but there are some side effects that may be painful in the process: headaches.
Headaches during pregnancy can also be caused by changes in diet like giving up caffeine. If leaving caffeine behind is important to you during pregnancy, make sure to wean off the cup o' Joe slowly to prevent severe headaches from caffeine withdrawal.
Important facts about headaches
Headache pain during pregnancy will vary from woman to woman. Some report having migraine level headaches on occasion while others report having dull, light headaches every day. Even though headaches during pregnancy are common, severe pain should be reported to the attending physician.
Treatment for nonemergent headaches
Self-medicating with over-the-counter medications is not suggested until you talk to your provider and until after your baby is born. Tension headaches, those caused by stress and often appearing in the temples or back of the neck, can be treated with warm compresses and a dark, quiet space before turning to medications.