Diabetes is a serious health issue in America, mainly as a result of the increasing obesity rate. The symptoms or effects of diabetes include blurred vision or blindness, loss of limbs and sensitivity to certain foods, and more recently, headaches. Diabetes is considered a serious health condition if left untreated, making diabetic headaches a warning signal of sorts.
There is still some debate as to why or how these headaches occur, and this causes researchers to discover new theories as to why this phenomenon happens. Some researchers claim that “diabetes does not usually cause headaches. But, while headaches are not dangerous, they may be an indication of poor blood sugar control in a person with diabetes.”
Many patients believe that their headaches are a direct result of their condition. In fact, other individuals believe that specific types of headaches are warnings or signs of diabetes. The largest issue resides in how diabetes health condition functions and manipulates the delicate chemistry of the body.
Why does diabetes cause a headache?
Everyone, at one point or another, experiences a headache time to time since they are often not linked to another medical condition. Headaches can be categorized into two primary categories, migraines and tension headaches. Migraines and tension headaches are supposedly less severe than the headaches brought about from a more serious health issue. To put it into perspective, there is a positive correlation between how severe a headache is and how serious a medical issue can be during the time of the headache.
Outside of primary headaches exist more serious and more uncomfortable head pain issues. For example, “secondary headaches are caused by underlying medical conditions or health issues and include the type of headache often experienced by people with diabetes.” Diabetic headaches are chronic in how they affect the body of a diabetic individual. Most of the discomfort caused by diabetic headaches varies from patient to patient, yet there are always a few similarities in these occurrences.
On that note, “diabetes headaches tend to occur frequently and cause moderate to severe levels of pain. A severe headache is considered one that significantly affects someone's ability to function as normal.” When referring to the ability to function normally, the threshold for this status is very subjective. For instance, while under a diabetic headache, some individuals might not have the ability to focus properly with their vision, or stand up straight when necessary. Diabetic headaches are quite severe, and this has to do with body chemistry.
Hypoglycemia and Hyperglycemia
When concerning the diabetic condition and how it causes headaches, there are two major issues to be aware of. First, there is a condition known as hypoglycemia that can become more severe if left unattended. To expand on that point, “hypoglycemia is usually characterized by blood sugar levels of less than 70 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL). Hypoglycemia is a serious condition, as glucose is the primary source of fuel for the brain.” Hypoglycemia is also referred to as low blood sugar, and that condition by itself can cause severe headaches.
Hypoglycemia can be controlled with a proper diet that maintains the sugar levels of an individual. Diabetic patients often experience the negative effects of hypoglycemia or low blood sugar, but this is not the only chemical issue a diabetic can possess. Inversely, “hyperglycemia results from too much glucose circulating in the blood. In type 1 diabetes, it is caused by a lack of insulin production. In type 2 diabetes, it is caused by the body's inability to use insulin correctly.”
Hyperglycemia is the issue in which an individual has too much sugar concentrated in their blood stream. In this situation, a diabetic patient can exacerbate their lack of sensitivity to insulin and progress their diabetic condition towards a negative trajectory. Thankfully, “a person can manage hyperglycemia and hypoglycemia with dietary changes and medications. Keeping blood sugar levels under control will reduce the risk of headaches caused by diabetes.”
Diabetic headaches are not always avoidable, yet they can be managed with appropriate dieting. Beyond consumption, there are several other headache treatments that a diabetic patient can use.
How to Treat these Headaches
Unfortunately, if an individual has diabetes but is unaware of their condition, they may not understand the difference between a normal headache and a diabetic headache. For those with diabetes who are aware of how these headaches operate, a high level of caution must be taken. For example, “a person should speak to a doctor first to see if their diabetes has affected their kidneys, as people with kidney damage should avoid taking certain painkillers, including ibuprofen.” Over the counter drugs are not at all recommended for individuals with a pre-existing health issue, such as diabetes. Drugs other than the ones prescribed by a medical professional can end up doing more harm than originally anticipated. On that note, “to completely relieve or stop headaches caused by diabetes, it is important to get blood glucose levels under control and practice good diabetes management. This can involve making lifestyle changes and taking or adjusting medication dosages.”
When it comes to managing diabetes, most functional treatment methods are subjective in how well they work. For patients with diabetes, a solid treatment regimen only works as well as the discipline of the patient. For example, “the American Diabetes Association recommend that people with low blood sugar consume 15 to 20 grams of simple carbohydrates or glucose before re-checking levels after 15 minutes. Once the blood sugar is back in the desired range, the headache pain should reduce.”
The delicate balance of sugars is imperative for maintaining the health of a diabetic patient. It is simple to disregard the issue of diabetes, but this can only be done for a short period of time. The symptoms of diabetes, especially diabetic headaches, are incredibly difficult to ignore.
Headaches, no matter what level of severity, are uncomfortable and inconvenient. In some instances, a headache can leave an individual feeling helpless and aching for relief. However, most headaches are an indication of a specific health issue, whether that issue is dangerous or not. With that being said, “a person should always consult a doctor before making changes to their diet, physical activity levels, or medication.” Immediate shifts of one’s body chemistry is enough to cause health conditions in some aspects of medicine. Changes in dietary habits can cause the body to act strangely or not function in the same manner as it did before a variable was displaced.
A headache is the body’s natural response to whatever is malfunctioning inside of the body. As far as diabetic headaches go, “a person can also help prevent headaches by maintaining a healthy weight, eating nutritious food, and taking the correct medications.” Diet and exercise are the two most important activities that a diabetic patient should concern themselves with.
Overall, headaches are caused by various imbalances in the body while diabetic headaches occur from a specific chemical imbalance. It is the duty of the diabetic patient to discover a proper balance between a severe diabetic headache and what could be a healthier lifestyle.