Aches and pains during pregnancy aren’t uncommon, but a new study suggests pregnant mothers may have cause to worry about headaches under certain circumstances.
The researchers, from the Montefiore Health System and the Albert
Einstein College of Medicine and Yeshiva University, have found that if a
pregnant woman with high blood pressure and no history of headache then
develops a headache that rapidly intensifies, she may be at risk for
preeclampsia or other pregnancy complications. The research was
published Wednesday in the journal Neurology, and the study authors said
it is the largest study of its kind.
"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,” lead author
Dr. Matthew S. Robbins, director of inpatient services at Montefiore
Headache Center, chief of neurology at Jack D. Weiler Hospital of
Montefiore, and associate professor of clinical neurology at Einstein,
said in a news release. “Those patients should be referred immediately
for neuroimaging and monitoring for preeclampsia."
An abnormal interaction of blood vessels that supply the placenta may
cause preeclampsia, which usually occurs during a woman’s second or
third trimester of pregnancy. According to the Mayo Clinic, preeclampsia
is marked by high blood pressure and signs to other organs, usually the
kidneys. The condition can be serious or fatal, and the only cure for
pregnant mothers who are diagnosed with preeclampsia is delivering their
Besides high blood pressure, symptoms of preeclampsia include
headaches, blurry vision or abdominal pain, but some patients are
Robbins and his team reviewed the medical records of every pregnant
woman who reported having a headache and had been referred for a
neurological consultation at Weiler Hospital over a five-year period.
They selected 140 study participants whose average age was 29. According
to the news release, the majority of the participants were Hispanic or
African-American, which was consistent with the ethnic makeup of Bronx
Ninety-one of the 140 participants had primary headaches, 90 percent
of which were migraines. Forty-nine of the participants had a secondary
headache, 51 percent of which had been diagnosed with pregnancy-related
high blood pressure, including 38 percent of women who were diagnosed
They observed that women with headache and high blood pressure were
17 times as likely to have a headache caused by a different condition.
"In most of these patients, their elevated blood pressure was driven by preeclampsia,” Robbins said in the news release.
Not having a history of headaches but having one that became
increasingly severe during pregnancy was also associated with a
five-fold increase chance that the headache was something else.
Researchers noted that other signs of a potential pregnancy complication
were seizures, fever, psychiatric problems, and headaches without sound