Women who have acute migraine may be more likely to have complications when giving birth, including preterm delivery, preeclampsia, and low birthweight. These findings, conducted by researchers at Montefiore Health System, were presented at the American Academy of Neurology’s 68th Annual Meeting in April.

Acute migraine attacks are disabling headaches with symptoms that may include light and sound sensitivity, nausea, vomiting, and visual disturbances.

This study was limited to women with attacks severe enough to prompt them to seek care while pregnant.

“The results of this study were of particular interest because more than half of the pregnant women with migraine experienced some type of adverse birth outcome, suggesting that these pregnancies should be considered high risk, said study author Matthew S. Robbins, MD, 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 Albert Einstein College of Medicine.

“These findings need to be replicated with a larger number of women, including those who have migraine that does not manifest with severe attacks during pregnancy.”

Researchers reviewed 5 years of data at Montefiore in New York. Ninety women were identified with severe migraine who sought emergency care while pregnant. The findings included:

  • 54 percent of these women had at least one complication.
  • Nearly 30 percent had a preterm delivery, compared to about 10 percent in the general population
  • About 20 percent had preeclampsia, a condition marked by high blood pressure, compared to between 5 and 8 percent in the general population
  • 19 percent delivered babies with low birthweight, compared to 8 percent in the general population

The women identified in this study took a variety of medications and it is not certain how the medications related to the outcome of the study. Most of the women with migraine, 62 percent, were treated with a combination of pill and intravenous drugs. Of those, 76 percent took acetaminophen, while 54 percent were given IV metoclopramide, a drug also prescribed for nausea, and 54 percent were given IV diphenhydramine, an antihistamine.