Diabetes does not often cause headaches, but, although headaches are not usually dangerous, they can indicate problems with blood sugar control in a person with diabetes, so to answer the question can diabetes cause headaches? Not if you manage it properly.
A person suffering from diabetes is unable to control their blood sugar.
Over time, periods of continuous high or low blood sugar can lead to serious and even life-threatening complications such as heart disease and kidney failure.
Recognizing headaches as a result of poor blood sugar control can be a first step in preventing more serious health problems.
So let’s see what is the relationship between diabetes and headaches and suggest ways to relieve diabetes-induced headaches.
Diabetes and headaches
Not everyone with diabetes will have a headache.
People with a recent diagnosis of diabetes may have headaches more often as they are still trying to control their blood sugar levels and find a way to work.
For others suffering from diabetes, headaches usually develop due to changes in blood sugar levels.
A headache may indicate that your blood sugar is too high, which doctors call hyperglycemia. Alternatively, your blood sugar may be too low, which doctors call hypoglycemia.
The higher the fluctuations in blood glucose levels, the more likely a person with diabetes will experience headaches.
The headaches that a person may have related to these fluctuations could be the result of changes in hormone levels, such as epinephrine and norepinephrine. These hormones can constrict the blood vessels in the brain and cause discomfort.
Hypoglycemia and headaches
Medics consider that blood sugar levels below 70 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dl) are an indicator of hypoglycemia. This is a serious condition because glucose is the main source of fuel for many cells in the body, including those in the brain.
The symptoms of hypoglycemia usually develop suddenly and can be more obvious than the symptoms of hyperglycemia.
In addition to headaches, some of the symptoms of hypoglycemia include:
• blurred vision
• racing heart
Hypoglycemia can occur in people with diabetes if they take too much insulin or do not eat enough carbohydrates.
It is essential to manage your diabetes carefully and to treat the symptoms of hypoglycemia quickly. This can help prevent more serious headaches and complications.
Hyperglycemia and headaches
Hyperglycemia results from having too much glucose circulating in the blood. In type 1 diabetes, the lack of insulin production causes an increase in blood sugar. In type 2 diabetes, the body cannot use insulin properly.
Additional risk factors include:
• a poor diet, rich in sugars and fats
• a sedentary lifestyle
• stress, which releases the hormone cortisol, which raises blood sugar
Symptoms of hyperglycemia often appear slowly. However, a headache can be an early symptom of hyperglycemia.
Other symptoms include:
• blurred vision
• excessive thirst
• Increased urination
• slow-healing wounds
Hyperglycemia is a serious condition that needs to be managed quickly, as high glucose levels can damage blood vessels and nerves. Without treatment, high blood sugar could make the body resistant to the effects of insulin, a hormone that allows cells to absorb glucose.
Without the absorption of glucose into the cells, the body burns fat instead. This process can lead to the accumulation of ketones, residual products that develop when the body burns fat for energy.
An accumulation of ketones can cause a condition called diabetic ketoacidosis, which can lead to coma and even death.
A person can manage hyperglycemia with dietary changes and medications. Keeping your blood sugar under control will reduce your risk of diabetes headaches.
Can diabetes cause headaches? Let’s get rid of them
So can diabetes cause headaches? The first thing you should do is test your blood sugar! You most probably have low or high blood glucose.
Over-the-counter (OTC) painkillers, including acetaminophen and ibuprofen, can help relieve short-term headaches, however, always consult with your doctor for medication, as most of the painkillers affect the kidneys and this should be addressed by your doctor.
Because people with kidney damage should avoid taking certain painkillers, including ibuprofen.
To stop the headaches caused by diabetes, it is important to control your blood sugar levels and practice effective diabetes management. This may include changes in lifestyle or diet and adjustment of doses or types of medications, but again this decision needs to be taken with your doctor.
Treatment of headaches from hypoglycemia
The first step in treating a hypoglycemia-induced headache is to confirm that the pain is due to low blood sugar. A blood glucose test can check for this problem.
Performing a blood glucose test is especially important for people with diabetes who wake up with headaches in the morning, as it can be a sign of nocturnal hypoglycemia.
The ADA recommends that people with low blood sugar consume 15 grams of simple carbs or glucose before checking their levels again after 15 minutes.
Once your blood sugar returns to your target range, your headache should be reduced.
Treatment of hyperglycemia headaches
Exercise can help relieve headaches from high blood glucose levels.
If a person with type 1 diabetes is concerned about their ketone levels, it is important to check the ketone urine first, especially if the blood sugar level reaches 240 mg/dl.
People with ketones in their urine should not exercise and should contact their doctor immediately. Exercise could have the unintended effect of raising your blood sugar.
A person can also help prevent hyperglycemia headaches by maintaining a healthy weight, following a nutritious and balanced diet, and taking the prescribed medications.
Go and see your doctor
Headaches can indicate periods of high or low blood sugar, which can lead to life-threatening complications without treatment. People with diabetes who suffer from frequent headaches should therefore consult their doctor.
It is vital that you contact a doctor immediately if the following occurs:
• The headache is severe and affects daily life.
• Blood sugar levels do not return to the required range.
• Other severe or persistent symptoms develop with headaches.
Diabetic headaches tend to cause moderate to severe levels of pain. A severe headache is one that significantly affects a person’s ability to resume normal function in daily life.
Not everyone with diabetes will have a headache, and diabetes is not the only cause of headaches.
People with diabetes who manage their diabetes well and control their blood sugar levels are less likely to suffer from headaches. Avoiding hypoglycemia and hyperglycemia is the best way to reduce headaches and other symptoms of diabetes, as well as more severe complications.
If the headache is severe or persists despite maintaining an optimal blood sugar level, a person should seek professional medical advice.
So all in all, the answer to the question can diabetes cause headaches? Not the illness itself, but the lows and highs can!