A severe headache can sometimes be a warning sign that a pregnant woman and her fetus are in danger, researchers report.
“Headaches during pregnancy are quite common, but it is not always easy to distinguish between a recurring, preexisting migraine condition and a headache caused by a pregnancy complication,” lead author Dr. Matthew Robbins, director of inpatient services at Montefiore’s Headache Center in New York City, said in a Montefiore news release.
“Our study suggests that physicians should pay close attention when a pregnant woman presents with a severe headache, especially if she has elevated blood pressure or lack of past headache history,” added Robbins, chief of neurology at Weiler Hospital. Robbins is also an associate professor of clinical neurology at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City.
The researchers found that these women may be at risk for preeclampsia and other pregnancy complications.
Preeclampsia tends to occur in the second or third trimester of pregnancy. Symptoms can include high blood pressure, headaches, blurry vision or abdominal pain, the researchers said. If the condition is severe, premature delivery may be necessary, they explained.
The investigators analyzed the medical records of 140 pregnant women, average age 29, with headache who were referred for a neurological consultation at Montefiore Health System’s Jack D. Weiler Hospital in New York City over a five-year period. Most of the women were black or Hispanic.
Women who had high blood pressure and experienced a severe headache were 17 times more likely to experience pregnancy complications, while having no history of headaches raised the risk fivefold, the study found.
The findings were published online Aug. 19 in the journal Neurology.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more about pregnancy complications.