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Exercise, Headache & Seeing Spots

by
author image Solomon Branch
Solomon Branch specializes in nutrition, health, acupuncture, herbal medicine and integrative medicine. He has a B.A. in English from George Mason University, as well as a master's degree in traditional Chinese medicine.
Exercise, Headache & Seeing Spots
Headaches and seeing spots while exercising can be the sign of a serious problem. Photo Credit DeanDrobot/iStock/Getty Images

Exercising can sometimes lead to headaches and seeing spots if you are tired, overexerting yourself or are dehydrated. In some cases, the exercise itself may be causing your headache, which can be reason for concern depending on the underlying cause. Exercise may be simply exacerbating another condition, such as a migraine headache. If you have headaches and see spots consistently while exercising, consult a doctor.

Exercise Headaches

Exercise headaches, also referred to as exertional headaches, occur during or after heavier exercise, such as running, swimming or weightlifting. According to the Mayo Clinic, exercise headaches are divided into two categories. Primary exercise headaches result solely from exercise and are harmless. What causes them is unclear, but they can be treated with medication. Secondary exercise headaches result from another underlying cause, such as problems with the blood vessels of the brain and heart. Primary exercise headaches last from 5 minutes to 48 hours while secondary exercise headaches often last a day or more. Both types of headaches share symptoms of a throbbing, bilateral headache, but a secondary exercise headache can also have symptoms of vomiting, double vision and neck rigidity. If these symptoms occur, seek immediate medical attention.

Hypertension

One in three American adults and two out of three of those over 65 suffer from hypertension, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center. Hypertension, also known as high blood pressure, has a variety of causes. While lack of exercise can be a cause, if hypertension is uncontrolled, exercise can make the symptoms more noticeable. In addition to headaches and visual disturbances, you may also experience nausea, confusion and seizures. Consult your doctor to have your blood pressure monitored.

Migraines

Migraine headaches are a common cause of throbbing headaches accompanied by visual disturbances. The cause of migraines is not clearly understood, but it's believed that genetics and environmental factors play a role. Migraines are complicated and can have a variety of symptoms, but they are most often described as throbbing and on one side of your head. Some migraine sufferers experience visual distortions, such as seeing spots or flashes of light. Sensitivity to light is also a common symptom. Exercising is not a cause of migraines, but it may make one worse or more noticeable because of the increased blood flow to your brain.

Other Causes

Lack of nutrition, fatigue and dehydration can all affect the amount of blood flow to the brain, leading to headaches and visual problems, such as seeing spots, particularly during exercise. To avoid dehydration, drink one to three cups of water before exercise and drink plenty of water during and after. Eat a smaller meal 2 to 4 hours before exercising and get plenty of rest the night before. If you forgot to eat or otherwise skipped your meal, eat a small snack no fewer than 30 minutes before exercising.

Treatment

As soon as you start to feel a headache coming on or you start to see spots, stop exercising and rest. Drink some water or eat a small snack if you suspect dehydration or lack of food is causing your problem. If the headache doesn't go away, or is accompanied by other symptoms such as nausea, stiff neck or the feeling like you are going to faint, seek immediate medical attention. If you regularly experience headaches and see spots while exercising, refrain from exercising until you consult a doctor. There are some serious medical disorders that could be the culprit and exercise could make any underlying problems worse.

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