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Why You Should Take Your Migraines Seriously When You’re Pregnant

Women with untreated migraines could suffer adverse effects to their pregnancies.

August 5, 2019

Migraines, though extraordinarily painful, are actually quite common, especially in women. Around 85 percent of people who suffer from migraines are women, and migraines affect about 18 percent of American women.

A new study suggests that migraines may have adverse effects on pregnancy.

Continue reading to find out:

  • How migraines are a women’s health issue
  • More about the study, including its background and its results
  • Treatment options for migraines

Migraines: A Women’s Health Issue

Out of the 39 million Americans who suffer from migraines, 28 million are women.

According to the Migraine Research Foundation, migraines are “one of the leading serious health problems affecting women.”

Not only are migraines more common in women, but they also manifest differently in women than in men.

Three girl friends sit around a coffee table using colored pens
Women are around three times more likely to experience migraines than men are.

Women are more likely to have longer migraine episodes with a higher level of chronic pain. This could be linked to estrogen levels, as migraines are more prevalent in male children than in female children—it isn’t until after puberty that they begin to disproportionately affect women.

Menstruation, hormonal contraception, pregnancy, and menopause can all impact migraines and how a woman experiences them.

Study: Untreated migraines complicate pregnancies


A study conducted in Denmark compared pregnancies in women who suffered from migraines to those who did not. The researchers’ objective was to “investigate the associations between maternal migraine and risks of adverse pregnancy outcomes in the mother, and birth, neonatal and postnatal outcomes in the offspring.”

Pregnant woman holds stuffed animal above her baby bump
For women, the risk of migraine is especially high during reproductive age.

The test subjects were 22,841 Danish pregnant women with histories of migraines, while the control subjects were 228,324 Danish pregnant women without histories of migraines. The women were matched in age and year of conception.

The Results

The study concluded that participants with migraines were at a higher risk of pregnancy-associated hypertension disorder. Additionally, maternal migraines were linked to birth complications, such as low birth weight, preterm birth, cesarean delivery, respiratory distress syndrome, and febrile seizures.

Following the study, the researchers reported “[women] with migraine and their offspring have greater risks of several adverse pregnancy outcomes than women without migraine.”

However, it is important to note that treated migraines were not associated with the negative results of the study, suggesting that pregnant women who undergo treatment for their migraines lessen their risk of migraine-related pregnancy complications.

Science Daily released a summary of the study, stating that  “[the study’s outcome] suggests that migraine itself, rather than its treatment, is associated with pregnancy complications.”

Migraine Treatment Options

Proper diagnosis and treatment are key to alleviating migraine symptoms. Yet even with medical consultation, treating migraines can be difficult and frustrating.

According to the Migraine Research Foundation, “Several hundred medications, devices, and surgical treatments are used to treat and prevent migraine attacks and symptoms . . .  Most are prescribed off label, as they’ve been developed and FDA approved for another purpose. Choosing one or a combination that might work is often a time-consuming process of trial and error that requires expert help from doctors specializing in the treatment of migraine.”

Migraine treatments can be broken down into three major categories:

  • Acute treatment, which is used to stop a migraine attack after it begins.
  • Preventative treatment, which is used to prevent migraine attacks from occurring and lessen the severity of any that do occur.
  • Complementary treatment, which is used in combination with another treatment to enhance its effects.  
OB/GYN office is empty before an appointment
Consulting a medical professional is the first step to treating migraines. If you experience frequent, painful headaches, schedule an appointment with your doctor to find out more information.

Non-drug therapies are commonly used to combat migraines, including:

Identifying external factors that may trigger a migraine attack is an important step to take in order to reduce the number of migraines you experience.  

Maintaining a schedule for eating and sleeping, staying hydrated, and exercising regularly can also help minimize migraine attacks.

Pregnancy is a stressful time, but avoiding stress can help prevent migraines, so try to minimize stress the best you can!

According to Nils Skajaa, epidemiologist and lead author of the study, "Migraine is a disabling condition, common among women of reproductive age. Accumulating evidence shows that migraine in pregnancy may lead to several adverse outcomes in the mother and child, but treatment may alleviate these risks."

If you’re pregnant and suffer from migraines, ask your doctor what treatment options can best protect you, your pregnancy, and your future baby.


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