Migraine Relief for Moms-to-Be
Given troubling new findings on the effects of common migraine medications on a baby's development, pregnant women need alternatives for migraine relief.
Migraines can make you miserable, but during pregnancy the pain may be even more difficult to bear—not because pregnancy makes migraines worse, but because many common migraine medications are off-limits to moms-to-be, including one class of medicine the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) now says can lead to decreased IQ scores in children.
According to a new warning from the FDA, drugs that contain valproate or valproate sodium, including Depakote and Depacon, should never be taken by pregnant women for the prevention of migraine headaches. Medications containing valproate already carry a boxed warning about the risk of birth defects, but the FDA says it upped its precaution against the drugs after a study showed decreased IQ scores in children whose mothers took them while pregnant. Separately, another study found that valproate may also be linked to an increased risk of autism.
“We have even more data now that shows the risks to children outweigh any treatment benefits for this use,” says Russell Katz, MD, director of the Division of Neurology Products in the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research.
If you are taking these medications and just found you are pregnant, don’t panic, but also don’t delay in reaching out to your doctor. The FDA recommends women get in contact with their health care provider immediately to learn about suitable alternatives for migraine relief. Valproate products are also prescribed to treat epilepsy and bipolar disorder (i.e. manic depression), and likewise, women who suffer from either condition who are pregnant or planning to get pregnant should discuss the safety of their medications with a doctor.
With the choices so narrowed, what’s a mom-to-be to do the next time a migraine strikes? As far as medications go, most doctors recommend that if pregnant moms need to take something for pain relief, Tylenol (acetaminophen) is probably the best choice—but double check with your care provider to make sure this gets the green light. Other possible prescription options include certain anti-nausea medications and beta blockers.
What else? According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), the best help for migraines may be taking steps to make sure you don’t get one in the first place. Stress-busting relaxation techniques, regular exercise, staying hydrated, getting enough sleep, and avoiding certain “trigger foods” (i.e. MSG and processed food that contains nitrates) can all help to reduce the number and severity of migraine attacks. NINDS also recommends keeping a “headache log” to list the time of day and circumstances leading up to your migraine attack to see what lifestyle adjustments might be helpful.
Other tips for migraine prevention include:
- Check your magnesium: A small study found that a daily magnesium supplement reduced migraine frequency by nearly 42 percent. To make sure you are getting enough, check your prenatal vitamin to make sure it includes magnesium and include magnesium-rich foods in your prenatal diet.
- Get a massage: Another study found that frequent migraine sufferers had fewer headaches following their massage sessions. For a safe, satisfying rub-down, find a massage therapist trained to work with pregnant clients.
- Eat Omega-3s: Omega-3 essential fatty acids, found in foods like salmon and walnuts, provide protection against inflammation, another headache trigger.
If you do get a migraine or severe headache, share this information with your doctor because sometimes headaches can be a symptom of another, more serious health issue, such as preeclampsia.
Mom Jennifer Lomas, of Tempe, Arizona, suffered migraines before becoming pregnant and continued to during pregnancy, though her treatment options changed. “I took Tylenol, but my doctor was reluctant to prescribe much else, so I learned how to find relief in other ways,” she explains. “At the first sign of a migraine, I would make myself get in bed with a sleeping mask over my eyes and an ice cold wet washcloth on my forehead and one behind my neck—I kept them in the freezer. If I stayed like this and didn’t move for about 20 minutes, I could almost always avoid a really bad migraine from developing.”
Her advice to fellow migraine sufferers?
“Rest as much as you can! The more sleep I got, the fewer migraines I had. Even if you can just put your feet up for a minute and relax, your poor aching head will thank you!”
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