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Is a Pounding Pulse in the Head During Exercise Serious?

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.
Is a Pounding Pulse in the Head During Exercise Serious?
High blood pressure is a common cause of a pounding sensation in the head. Photo Credit Polka Dot Images/Polka Dot/Getty Images

Feeling your head pound during exercise can be alarming, but it is not always the result of a serious condition. Dehydration can cause a pounding sensation in the head or a headache, as can fatigue or lack of nourishment. If you are well rested and are eating and drinking properly before exercising and still experiencing a pounding pulse in your head, consult your doctor. You could have high blood pressure or another underlying medical condition causing the problem.

Dehydration

Your body needs a certain amount of water to function properly. Among other functions, water also has the job of filling out your blood so that there is enough volume to keep your blood pressure at a proper level. If you don't have enough fluids, your blood pressure can drop and your heart has to work that much harder to get blood flowing. This can lead to a pounding sensation in your head, particularly when exercising. Dehydration can also cause dizziness, fatigue, dry mouth and decreased urine output. To avoid dehydration, start hydrating the night before vigorous exercise and drink 1 to 3 cups of water right before exercising. Stay hydrated as you get thirsty during exercise and drink an electrolyte-enhanced sports drink or water after exercise.

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Hypoglycemia

Lack of enough glucose in the blood is referred to as low blood sugar or hypoglycemia. It is a common problem for diabetics but can also occur if you are malnourished. Without enough glucose, your body is lacking its primary source of fuel and can't function properly. This can lead to a variety of symptoms, including dizziness, headache, fatigue and confusion. You may also experience a pounding sensation or pounding headache while exercising.

High/Low Blood pressure

While dehydration can cause low blood pressure, it can also result from a variety of other causes. A common cause is medication for high blood pressure, which thins the blood to reduce the pressure in the vessels. Conversely, high blood pressure can also lead to pounding sensations in the head or a pounding headache. In most circumstances, high blood pressure has no symptoms, but exercise temporarily raises your blood pressure and can increase the pressure in the vessels enough to cause a pounding sensation. There are multiple causes of high and low blood pressure and some of them are quite serious, so consult your doctor for a diagnosis.

Other Causes

While low blood sugar, dehydration and blood pressure issues are some of the more common causes of pounding sensations in the head during exercise, lack of sleep, too much alcohol and certain medications could also be responsible. Exercise could just be making the problem worse. Migraine headaches, structural problems stopping blood flow to the brain or, in rare cases, a tumor could be the cause of the pounding sensation in your head.

Considerations

If you are experiencing a pounding sensation in your head consistently while exercising, even if there is no pain, consult a doctor. Discuss any medications you are taking, particularly if you are taking medications that thin your blood. Get plenty of rest, eat before exercising and stay properly hydrated to rule out low blood sugar and dehydration as a possible cause. Avoid drinking alcohol and caffeine before exercising, as they can contribute to changes in blood pressure.

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