Headaches and diabetes are two issues that plague many people. Having one issue is bad enough, but having both can be debilitating, especially when the headaches are migraines. Because diabetes is connected to blood sugar issues, one of the symptoms of problems with balancing blood sugar are headaches.
At this point in time, a direct connection between diabetes and migraine-type headaches is still being studied, especially in relation to type-2 diabetes. But, there are connections between typical headaches and diabetes and other blood-sugar related issues.
What is Diabetes?
The chronic metabolic disease causes abnormalities in blood sugar levels. Because the body needs to have blood sugar in balance, the results of diabetes can be deadly. Typically when you eat, your body breaks down food into glucose and sends it into the bloodstream. The body releases insulin when blood sugar increases. However, those with diabetes struggle to make insulin to balance their blood sugar and a lot of the times their levels stay too high.
Unfortunately, there is not a cure to diabetes. But there are ways to reduce the problems caused by it, if you eat well and stay active.
There are three types of diabetes, Type 1, Type 2 and Gestational. Type 1 Diabetes is often diagnosed in children and lasts a lifetime. Most people who have Type 1 take insulin every day. The most common is Type 2, which is often diagnosed in adults and is developed over several years. This type of diabetes can be prevented, delayed, and reversed by changing health habits. The third is Gestational Diabetes which happens to women who are pregnant. It often disappears after the birth, but can increase the risk of Type 2 for both the mom and baby.
Types of Headaches and Their Causes
A headache is one of the symptoms that one can have when their blood sugar levels are off. These tend to be typical headaches, rather than migraines. Headaches happen to both children and adults, and can be so debilitating that people miss work or school.
Physicians classify headaches as primary or secondary. A primary headache is one that affects the tissues around the head; the most common are migraines and tension headaches. The affected tissues send pain signals to the brain which then causes the ache. In a primary headache, the headache itself is the problem. With a secondary headache, the headache is a symptom of another problem, such as blood sugar.
Studies show that people who have diabetes-related headaches complain about moderate to severe pain. The headaches could be a signal that blood sugar needs to be controlled. Some secondary headaches are caused by diabetes, however others are caused by injuries, anxiety, hormone fluctuations, eye problems, fevers, hypertension, and more. Studies show that the brain requires blood sugar and without it, the brain begins to function differently. Things like neural function worsens when glucose levels drop. Thus, fasting and hunger can cause headaches, but within 72 hours of eating headaches tend to stop.
Hyperglycemia and Headaches
When people have hyperglycemia, they have high levels of blood glucose. Some people who have hyperglycemia do not experience any symptoms, and most do not occur until the levels are about 200 milligrams per deciliter according to research. As hyperglycemia develops, many people end up with headaches. As the problem grows, so does the severity of the headaches. For people with a history of hyperglycemia, headaches are often the first sign that they need to balance their blood sugar.
Other symptoms associated with hyperglycemia include excessive hunger and thirst with increased urination and dehydration. Some people also experience fatigue, blurry vision and sores that are slow to heal.
It is possible to manage hyperglycemia with diet and exercise changes. Like patients with diabetes, people with hyperglycemia often take medications to keep their blood sugar at appropriate levels. If you have headaches related to hyperglycemia, controlling your blood sugar will slow them.
If people do not manage their hyperglycemia, the problems can exacerbate. Along with headaches and other early symptoms, people with untreated hyperglycemia can have nausea and vomiting from toxic acids building up in their bodies. They can also have shortness of breath, and their breath develops a sweet smell. Eventually, they can become weak and confused and end up in a coma. Therefore, if the headaches begin, it is important to take it seriously and not just cover up the symptoms by taking acetaminophen or ibuprofen.
Hypoglycemia and Headaches
Similarly, headaches can also be caused by hypoglycemia - or having low levels of blood sugar. For hypoglycemic symptoms to occur, blood sugar levels must fall below 70 mg/dL. The symptoms come on quickly, especially headaches, which are often accompanied by other noticeable problems. With low blood sugar, people can become dizzy, shaky, sweaty, irritable, weak and tired. They might also show signs of anxiety or confusion, as well as being nauseous. Without treatment, people with hypoglycemia can have seizures and enter into a coma.
If a headache is caused by hypoglycemia, there are tests that can show how low blood sugar levels are. Your health care provider can tell you how many carbs or simple sugars your body needs to stay healthy. After you have balanced your blood sugar levels, you should begin to notice your headaches disappear. If they do not, then over-the-counter pain relievers can help.
For people with headaches caused by diabetes, hyperglycemia, or hypoglycemia, the secrets to getting rid of a headache fast involve keeping their glucose levels under control. If you have regular headaches, you should speak to your health care provider to remedy the problem. You might need to have adjustments made to your daily medications or you may need other therapies to lesson the secondary diabetes symptoms. No one should have to live with regular headaches, as there are treatments available and finding out the root cause of your headache may just help you solve your problem.
About the Author
Dr. Brent Wells, D.C. founded Better Health Chiropractic & Physical Rehab and has been a chiropractor for over 20 years. His practice has treated thousands of patients from different health problems using services including chiropractic care, massage therapy, and physical rehab therapy designed for Juneau and Anchorage patients to help give them long-lasting relief.
He is a proud member of the American Chiropractic Association and the American Academy of Spine Physicians. And he continues his education to remain active and updated in all studies related to neurology, physical rehab, biomechanics, spine conditions, brain injury trauma, and more.