Blood Pressure, Headaches & Exercise

Headaches during or after exercise can be due to a variety of factors. In some cases, exercise itself is the cause of a headache, which is appropriately referred to as an exercise headache. Some exercise headaches are harmless, but others may be caused by serious problems with your heart or blood vessels. Blood pressure can also cause headaches, particularly high blood pressure. Due to the potential risks involved, if you are experiencing headaches on a regular basis while exercising, you should consult a doctor.

An older man having his blood pressure taken after exercise. (Image: Alexander Raths/iStock/Getty Images)

Blood Pressure

Blood pressure is the measure of the pressure of your blood against your arteries as it courses through your body. It is measured in terms of how much the blood can move a millimeter of mercury, which is written as mmHG. Your blood pressure is given in two numbers -- systolic pressure and diastolic pressure. Systolic pressure is the measure of the amount of pressure when your heart is contracting, and diastolic pressure is the measure of the pressure when your heart muscle is relaxed. Blood pressure is expressed in terms of the systolic pressure over the diastolic pressure. For example, a normal blood pressure reading is considered 120 over 80, which is written as 120/80 mmHG. If either number is too high or too low, it can either indicate or cause a problem with your health.

Exercise and Blood Pressure

Exercise is often recommended as a way to help reduce high blood pressure. Over time, exercise helps slow your heart rate while you are at rest, which reduces your blood pressure. However, during exercise your blood pressure is temporarily raised because your heart is beating faster. If you have high blood pressure, which means your systolic reading is consistently over 140 or your diastolic reading is consistently over 90, exercise can exacerbate the problem, leading to a headache. In many cases, you may not have any symptoms of high blood pressure until you exercise.

Other Symptoms

Most of the time, there are no symptoms of high blood pressure, according to MedlinePlus, but if you are experiencing headaches while exercising as a result of high blood pressure, other symptoms could also be present. Those include confusion, fatigue, buzzing in the ear, an irregular heartbeat, bleeding in the nose or changes in your vision, such as blurred vision or spots in front of your eyes. If you are experiencing severe headaches, you could have something called malignant hypertension, which is a sudden rise in blood pressure that could be fatal if not treated. Consult your doctor if you start to experience a severe headache or any of these other symptoms.


High blood pressure can be essential or secondary. Essential high blood pressure, or hypertension, is not caused by any known factors. Secondary hypertension can result from a variety of disorders, some of them quite serious. For this reason, you should consult a doctor even if you are experiencing only mild headaches during exercise, particularly if you have already been diagnosed with high blood pressure. In most cases, high blood pressure is treatable.

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