Pregnancy Symptoms or Vestibular Migraine?

Pregnancy Symptoms or Vestibular Migraine?

When a woman with vestibular migraine (VM) embarks on the journey to motherhood, it can be nerve wracking to know if your hormones will affect your vestibular symptoms. So much so, many delay expanding their family until they are in a good place with their health. 

I am one of those women. I got sick in 2016 and delayed starting my family for a few years before getting pregnant in 2019 with my son. I knew that I couldn’t get on long-term medication until after I was done with the pregnancy chapter of my life and wanted to be managing my health as best as I could.

Luckily, during my first pregnancy I didn’t experience amplified VM symptoms, but I did have Hyperemesis Gravidarum (HG), which causes extreme vomiting during pregnancy. It was rough, but I was thankful not to be dizzier than usual. However, I am now at the end of my second pregnancy, and this time around has been a bit different vestibular-wise.

Have you ever been to the doctor for a non-vestibular related condition or taken a new medication and all the verbiage surrounding it says, “if you’re dizzy, notify your doctor”? When you have a vestibular condition, it’s hard to know if your dizzy symptoms are typical, everyday vestibular symptoms, or if they are caused by something else. That’s how I felt during this pregnancy. 

How do you know if your symptoms are pregnancy-related or have to do with your vestibular condition? Unfortunately, many pregnancy symptoms replicate vestibular symptoms, so it can be hard to tell. For me, I could usually tell if it was a VM attack if it was accompanied by other VM indicators. However, there were four symptoms that were hard for me to navigate this time around.

Nausea – Morning Sickness

Nausea isn’t foreign to me. My dizziness can be so bad during a VM attack that nausea is usually a second-tier symptom. That said, in the beginning stages of pregnancy, a lot of women with VM may not even know they are pregnant if they experience nausea with attacks. It’s just part of your everyday life. During both pregnancies, nausea surprisingly wasn’t a giveaway – at least, not at first. 

How Could I Tell The Difference?

For me, I can tell the difference due to how violently sick I am, as opposed to just feeling sick to my stomach. While I wasn’t officially diagnosed with HG this pregnancy, I was sick for the first 20 weeks. I couldn’t keep much down, and rather than gain weight like you should in pregnancy I lost quite a bit. (Don’t worry, I made up for it during the second half, haha!) 

Because I was so sick, my pregnancies prompted me to do a little digging, and the results I found were interesting. Many women I have connected with on social media have experienced more severe morning sickness than average during pregnancy. Why? 

Studies have shown that women who have a history of migraine are more likely to experience HG. This is believed to be attributed to how more sensitive brains react to hormones. So, if you are newly pregnant, experience vestibular migraine, and are super sick, you’re not alone. 

Fatigue – Pregnancy Exhaustion

Anyone who has VM knows that the aftermath of an attack can come with extreme fatigue. I mean, it makes sense, right? For hours to days you are trying to keep your composure and balance while being hit with light and sound sensitivity, dizziness, head pain, aura, etc. But what happens if that fatigue persists?

Prior to getting pregnant this go around, I was experiencing several VM attacks per month, and with those attacks extreme fatigue. For a lot of women, fatigue may also be an early indicator of pregnancy. 

How Could I Tell The Difference?

As I said before, I am usually able to differentiate my VM vs. pregnancy symptoms by knowing if it’s accompanied with other VM symptoms. When I was so tired for weeks on end it was easy for me to realize this was something other than VM. However, for the first week or so prior to the positive pregnancy test, it was hard to tell!  

Brain Fog – Mommy Brain

During a VM attack, I am no stranger to brain fog. It’s as if my brain just shuts off and I can’t think of common words, names, or easy information I can normally retrieve. Brain fog is always prevalent during a VM attack, but have you also heard of “mommy brain?” Studies have shown that there is a neurobiological change in a woman’s brain, both during pregnancy and after, which impacts verbal memory, i.e. mommy brain.

How Could I Tell The Difference?

Mommy brain is usually something that happens toward the end of pregnancy from insomnia/ lack of sleep. It is also known to occur during postpartum. By this point, I am already exhausted, it is honestly fair to assume that it could be from either. 

Dizziness – Low Blood Pressure

Dizziness has always been a hard symptom for me to differentiate whether it’s being caused by VM or my pregnancy. I suffer from chronic VM and a damaged vestibular nerve, which causes slight dizziness daily. So, when my dizziness is exacerbated, I assume it must be VM. But what if it’s not? Pregnancy is strange the further along you get. Doctors tell you to let them know if you experience extreme dizziness because they’re worried about anemia and other medical issues. 

This pregnancy I have struggled with dizziness, especially in my third trimester. So much so, I wasn’t sure what was the cause. It wasn’t until I had a weekend of feeling COMPLETELY off and unbalanced that I started to think it wasn’t VM or vestibular related. Later I found out that I was experiencing low blood pressure, which was causing me to feel much dizzier than usual. 

When your blood pressure is low it slows down the blood flow to the brain and causes you to be dizzy. I live in Texas, and after being outside in the heat and already dealing with my pregnancy nausea my blood pressure dropped because I was dehydrated. 

How Could I Tell The Difference?

Typically, with a VM attack I feel an elevator dropping sensation, melting, and derealization. When my blood pressure was low I felt drained and the world was spinning. What tipped me off more than anything was the different sensation, which, of course, was confirmed by my blood pressure results. 

There you have it!

Pregnancy and vestibular symptoms are so similar that it can be hard to tell which you might be dealing with, so I hope this breakdown helps! If you’d like to learn more about my journey with vestibular migraine and motherhood, head over to my blog TrueKaylaisms or follow me on Instagram! 

By: VeDA Ambassador, Kayla McCain of TrueKaylaisms