Susan B. Sloane, BS, RPh, CDE, has been a registered pharmacist for more than 20 years and a Certified Diabetes Educator for more than 15 years. Her two sons were diagnosed with diabetes, and since then, she has been dedicated to promoting wellness and optimal outcomes as a patient advocate, information expert, educator, and corporate partner.
Headaches can be debilitating, and patients with diabetes can get headaches from blood sugars dropping too low or climbing too high. As if we didn’t have enough to think about, right? There are many factors that can trigger headaches or even migraines, and blood sugar fluctuations are just one of those factors.
The key to avoiding blood sugar-related headaches is keeping blood sugars from spiking or dropping too rapidly. For example, when you are treating a low blood sugar, don’t go on a high carbohydrate-eating binge, even though you may be ravenous. Eat a sensible meal with some protein as directed by your healthcare provider.
When blood sugar is too low
One of the suspected causes of low blood sugar-caused headaches has to do with the blood vessels in your brain. Your brain needs a readily available supply of glucose in order to function properly. If the brain senses it does not have enough sugar, blood vessels in the brain can spasm, triggering a headache. In the fasting state, stress hormones are also released which can cause vasoconstriction leading to headache.
There is also a type of headache that can be seen in patients with diabetes that experience frequent low blood sugars, which are followed by rebound high blood sugars. This rebound phenomenon is often due to hormones that the body releases in response to a low blood sugar in an attempt to regulate itself.
When blood sugar is too high
High blood sugars can cause lack of concentration, an overall feeling of sluggishness, and headaches. This is especially true if blood sugars have been high for a long period of time. Several factors are at play in this situation. First, in an attempt to rid the body of excess sugar, your body will increase urine output. The increase in urination can cause dehydration and electrolyte imbalance that can lead to—you guessed it—a headache!
What can I do to prevent headaches?
It seems that the more you keep blood sugars stable without a lot of huge fluctuations the better your headaches may get. Keep in mind that it may be difficult to pinpoint the exact cause of a headache, and your healthcare professional will need to access and establish a proper treatment plan that is right for you.
There are medications that can be quite effective to treat headaches. Acetaminophen, aspirin, ibuprofen or other over-the-counter drugs can be helpful if you are able to take them. Adequate hydration is always important, especially if you are prone to headaches. People with diabetes can tend to get dehydrated faster than those without diabetes.
Avoid foods can bring on headaches, such as caffeine, chocolate, and certain wine and cheese products. Stress can cause headaches as well. Who among us has not experienced stress? Exercise is a wonderful stress buster and can help keep up our natural “happy” endorphin hormones. Pets and hobbies can be awesome stress busters as well.
Other common headache triggers
2. Lack of sleep
5. Blood sugar
6. Hormone changes (menopause, menstruation, etc.)
7. Teeth grinding
9. Poor posture
How do you deal with blood sugar headaches? Leave your thoughts in the comments section below.