Up to 30 percent of pregnant women are affected by headaches. Most headaches are benign for those who aren’t pregnant. When pregnant, though, some headaches may be a sign of a life-threatening condition. These three tips will help you know how to resolve pregnancy headaches, and when to contact your doctor about them.
Know your normal blood pressure
Having an understanding of your normal blood pressure is critical. Take charge of your health and monitor your blood pressure by using a home blood pressure device. You should call your doctor immediately if your blood pressure begins spiking or increasing and staying elevated. Blood pressure should be checked and then rechecked until it starts to come down and normalize. Most women don’t know their everyday blood pressure.
Monitor your blood pressure regularly
The most dangerous kind of pregnancy headache is caused by a change in blood pressure — a possible indicator of preeclampsia, a pregnancy complication characterized by high blood pressure and signs of damage to the liver and kidneys. It can lead to serious, even fatal, complications for both mother and baby. High blood pressure and protein in the urine are key features and headache can be a sign. At any time during pregnancy, blood pressure fluctuation needs attention. Women whose blood pressure increases even temporarily in pregnancy need to be watched closely to be sure it doesn’t develop into pre-eclampsia or eclampsia — which could lead to organ damage or even seizures and coma.
Seek treatment promptly
With early identification of those likely to become pre-eclamptic, it is easy to begin effective treatment before a crisis ensues. I watch my patients’ blood pressure closely, so I have not had any patients with episodes of hypertensive crises or eclampsia, and no patients with dangerous headaches or strokes. The path to dangerous headaches is associated with blood pressure on the rise. These elevations of blood pressure precede strokes much like going up the steps of a ladder, with opportunity to treat the patient for prevention on each step. The dangerous headache begins at the foot of the ladder, not at the diving board.
Headaches from eclampsia and hypertension are most often caused by ruptured arteries, and are therefore very painful. Some people call them “thunderclap headaches” because they come on so suddenly. Fortunately, there are many opportunities for prevention and early effective treatment for elevated blood pressure and the eclampsia which can result.
With pregnancy, we must track relative blood pressure to avoid the sudden appearance of emergency strokes. Patients with rising blood pressure need to be seen frequently in the office — every week, or even more often — and they need to monitor blood pressure at home to promote good health outcomes.
While most pregnancy headaches are benign, but some aren’t. With sudden onset, severe headaches — especially when pregnant, take your health seriously — seek emergency medical care immediately.
Alan Lindemann, M.D: An obstetrician and maternal mortality expert, “Rural Doc” Alan Lindemann, M.D. teaches women and their families how to create the outcomes they want for their own personal health and pregnancy. In his nearly 40 years of practice, he has delivered around 6,000 babies and achieved a maternal mortality rate of zero! Learn more at LindemannMD.com.