Migraines Could Indicate Risk of Pregnancy Complications

Having a severe headache during pregnancy may mean more than having to lie down and pop a few painkillers. Migraines have been linked to several pregnancy complications in a recent study, but the study is fairly small.

The researchers examined 90 pregnant women who had migraines, nearly a third of whom had a migraine lasting at least 72 hours (status migrainosus). In addition, 41% had a migraine with aura, and 13% had chronic migraines. Even though most of the women (62%) received either acetaminophen or IV metoclopramide and diphenhydramine to treat the migraine, just over half of the overall group experienced at least one pregnancy complication.

If you're pregnancy, a migraine may be reason enough to call your OBGYN or midwife. Photo by Sasha Wolff

If you’re pregnancy, a migraine may be reason enough to call your OBGYN or midwife. Photo by Sasha Wolff

One in five of the women had pre-eclampsia while 28% had a preterm birth and 19% had newborns with low birthweights. As we note in the book, having a low birthweight on its own does not necessarily mean the infant will have any problems, but lower birthweights, like preterm births, are linked to a higher risk of longer term challenges. Further, 31% of the women needed a cesarean section at delivery.

The good news is that having a migraine with aura actually conferred a lower risk of any difficulties during the pregnancy or birth. The bad news is that those who were 35 years old or older were much more likely to experience complications if they had a migraine. These women had seven times greater odds of a pregnancy complication than those who were younger.

So what are we to make of this study? First, it was presented at the annual conference of the American Academy of Neurology. Studies presented at conferences generally include only preliminary results in an abstract instead of a complete study with details on confounders and more specific information about the women. Without knowing more about the study’s methods, it’s harder to assess the study’s weaknesses. It also has not been through peer-reviewed and published in a journal, so the findings may become less important as the study makes its way along the path to publication.

Second, the study does not include a control group—a comparison group of pregnant women of similar characteristics who did not experience migraines. Having no control group makes it harder to make comparisons or draw conclusions effectively. But the study does fall in line with past research finding associations between migraines in pregnancy and preeclampsia. The bottom line here is that a severe headache during pregnancy is an indication that you should call your prenatal provider, but it doesn’t mean your pregnancy isn’t going to turn out just fine.