Acute headache diagnosis in pregnant women

Matthew S. Robbins, Constantine Farmakidis, Ashlesha K. Dayal, Richard B. Lipton

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

69 Scopus citations


Objective: To characterize demographic and clinical features in pregnant women presenting with acute headache, and to identify clinical features associated with secondary headache. Methods: We conducted a 5-year, single-center, retrospective study of consecutive pregnant women presenting to acute care with headache receiving neurologic consultation. Results: The 140 women had a mean age of 29 ± 6.4 years and often presented in the third trimester (56.4%). Diagnoses were divided into primary (65.0%) and secondary (35.0%) disorders. The most common primary headache disorder was migraine (91.2%) and secondary headache disorders were hypertensive disorders (51.0%). The groups were similar in demographics, gestational ages, and most headache features. In univariate analysis, secondary headaches were associated with a lack of headache history (36.7% vs 13.2%, p 0.0012), seizures (12.2% vs 0.0%, p 0.0015), elevated blood pressure (55.1% vs 8.8%, p < 0.0001), fever (8.2% vs 0.0%, p 0.014), and an abnormal neurologic examination (34.7% vs 16.5%, p 0.014). In multivariate logistic regression, elevated blood pressure (odds ratio [OR] 17.0, 95% confidence interval [CI] 4.2-56.0) and a lack of headache history (OR 4.9, 95% CI 1.7-14.5) had an increased association with secondary headache, while psychiatric comorbidity (OR 0.13, 95% CI 0.021-0.78) and phonophobia (OR 0.29, 95% CI 0.09-0.91) had a reduced association with secondary headache. Conclusions: Among pregnant women receiving inpatient neurologic consultation, more than one-third have secondary headache. Diagnostic vigilance should be heightened in the absence of a headache history and if seizures, hypertension, or fever are present. Attack features may not adequately distinguish primary vs secondary disorders, and low thresholds for neuroimaging and monitoring for preeclampsia are justified.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1024-1030
Number of pages7
Issue number12
StatePublished - Sep 22 2015

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Neurology


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