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Study: Common Ailment May Be Tied to Increased Pregnancy Complications

“Roughly 20 percent of women of childbearing age experience migraine, but the impact of migraine on pregnancy outcomes has not been well understood.”
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profile picture of Nehal Aggarwal
ByNehal Aggarwal
Associate Editor
Published
February 28, 2022
pregnant woman suffering from a migraine while laying on couch at home
Image: globalmoments/Getty Images

Migraines are unfortunately a common issue that affect many Americans. But experts are saying pregnant women who experience them may be at an increased risk for complications.

A study from the American Academy of Neurology and National Institutes of Health looked at over 30,000 pregnancies in approximately 19,000 women over a 20-year period. Of the participants, 11 percent report having received a migraine diagnosis prior to preganncy. The study found that women with migraines may have a higher risk of pregnancy complications, such as preterm labor, high blood pressure, preeclampsia, gestational diabetes and low birthweight.

Taking age, obesity and other factors that could increase risk of complications into account, the study found that women with migraines had a higher risk of complications. More specifically, the researchers noted the women had a 17 percent higher risk for preterm delivery; 28 percent higher risk of gestational high blood pressure; and 40 percent higher risk of preeclampsia.

The study also analyzed migraines with auras, which are sensations such as flashing lights or other visual disturbances that precede a migraine. It found that migraines with aura were associated with a slightly higher risk of preeclampsia (51 percent) than in women with migraines without aura (29 percent). There was no correlation found between migraines and gestational diabetes or low birthweight.

“Roughly 20 percent of women of childbearing age experience migraine, but the impact of migraine on pregnancy outcomes has not been well understood,” study author Alexandra Purdue-Smithe, Ph.D., of Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, said in a press release. “Our large prospective study found links between migraine and pregnancy complications that could help inform doctors and women with migraine of potential risks they should be aware of during pregnancy.”

It’s important to note this is a preliminary study and has some limitations. The data on migraines with aura was collected after the pregnancy in some cases and relied on participants accurately remembering their experiences. Plus, the study doesn’t account for how frequently the migraines occurred and other migraine features.

This isn’t the first study of its kind—a 2019 study also found a correlation between migraines and c-sections. However, due to the limitations of this study and of past work, researchers agree further studies are needed to better understand the correlation between migraines and increased risk of pregnancy complications.

Purdue-Smithe stresses that the risks are very low overall, so if you do suffer from migraines, don’t worry! “More research is needed to determine exactly why migraine may be associated with higher risks of complications,” she says. “In the meantime, women with migraine may benefit from closer monitoring during pregnancy so that complications like preeclampsia can be identified and managed as soon as possible.”

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