Why Do I Get a Headache When I'm Hungry?

A hectic schedule that interferes with your usual meal patterns can leave you tense, hungry and in pain. It could be your head and not your stomach that tells you it's past time to eat. One of your body's responses to hunger, headaches are a signal of unhealthy eating habits. You can reduce the likelihood of hunger-induced headaches by planning balanced meals and snacks ahead of time.

Close up of a young woman with a headache. (Image: Stockbyte/Stockbyte/Getty Images)

Causes

Possible causes of hunger headaches include muscle tension and low blood sugar. Hunger can cause your muscles to tighten, triggering a tension headache. Skipping meals, sleeping later than usual or delaying meals or snacks may result in a drop in your blood sugar levels. When your blood sugar drops, your body releases hormones to counter low glucose levels, which can trigger a headache. Frequently taking medication for headaches triggered by hunger potentially leads to rebounding or recurring headaches.

Identification

Tension headaches have several possible causes, including hunger. Symptoms of a hunger-induced tension headache include pain or pressure on both sides of the head, gripping tightness in the forehead, pain that originates in the back of the head, pain in the temples and neck, and tense shoulders, face or neck. Headaches triggered by low blood sugar are often accompanied by other associated symptoms, such as sweating, weakness, fatigue, confusion, lightheadedness and shakiness.

Prevention

You can reduce your risk for hunger-related headaches by eating your meals and snacks at regular times. Avoid skipping meals and eat a balanced diet consisting of a variety of fruits and vegetables, lean proteins and whole grains. Stay hydrated and limit added sugar from beverages and foods. If you frequently experience headaches associated with hunger, consider eating several small meals a day rather than three larger meals, or plan for a 100 to 200-calorie healthy snack between meals.

Considerations

Frequent headaches might be a sign of a more serious health problem. Consult with your doctor right away if your headache worsens after taking pain medication, causes pain severe enough to wake you up, starts after a head injury or is accompanied by a rash, fever, numbness, blurred or double vision, a stiff neck or impaired speech. You should also make a medical appointment if you consistently have headaches two or more times a week, you experience changes in your headache patterns, you take headache medicine two or more times a week or your headaches get progressively more severe.

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