Getting a headache after eating is not unusual. However, it is not something people can or should ignore. The symptoms can be uncomfortable enough to impact a person’s life in a significant way.
Getting a headache immediately after eating could feel like pressure between the eyes, throbbing on one side of the head, or a tight feeling across the forehead. Each type of sensation could be due to a different source. A headache after eating could also be a symptom of a medical condition. In many cases, people get headache and nausea after eating, and require medical attention to properly diagnose and treat their condition.
Constant headaches should not be ignored. They can lead to sleeping problems, stress, and depression, as well as the use of chemical substances.
Some headaches are triggered by foods. For instance, there are people who get a headache after eating sugar. Others experience headache following the consumption of salty foods. It is not always food though. Sometimes, it can be a combination of food and an underlying medical condition.
Hypoglycemia, which takes place when blood glucose levels drop below normal range, can be a problem for some people. Rice and some fruits that contain carbohydrates are sources of glucose. Reactive hypoglycemia occurs from insulin overproduction followed by the release of the stress hormones. In this case, after eating, the pancreas releases too much insulin, reducing blood glucose levels. The adrenal glands react and boost the blood glucose levels. There is also something called hypoglycemia unawareness. This is when people with type 1 and 2 diabetes have no warning signs of low blood glucose.
Causes of headache after eating
If you experience headache after eating, you should not jump to conclusions. It could be related to what you are eating, but then again the trigger may not be directly linked to food. Here are some possible causes of headache after eating.
Hypertension: High blood pressure, or hypertension, is a common problem. About 70 million Americans suffer from high blood pressure. A high salt intake has been known to lead to headaches in those who have high blood pressure. This is due to the fact that excess salt draws water into the blood stream, increasing blood volume and triggering an increase in blood pressure.
Food allergy: Sometimes the immune system sees certain foods as threat and releases histamines in the blood. This is an allergic response that can lead to headaches or swelling and hives.
Food intolerance: Not to be confused with food allergies, food intolerance is when people can’t tolerate a certain substance in food, such as lactose or gluten. For some people who are sensitive to these foods, the reaction is stomach pain or diarrhea, but for others, it can be headache.
Diabetes: If you suffer from diabetes and eat something sweet, you can trigger a headache. Sugary foods cause a sudden rise in blood sugar levels, which release insulin. Insulin increases the absorption of sugar into our cells, which can lead to hypoglycemia. This sugar crash causes dilation of blood vessels in the brain, triggering a headache.
Migraines: While we can’t say for certain why, some people get migraine headaches from foods that contain tyramine, such as sour cream, yogurt, and buttermilk. There are other foods that are common migraine triggers, including chocolate, cured meats, soy sauce, and citrus fruits.
Gastric reflux: When acid seeps upward into the esophagus and towards the throat, this is called acid reflux. Eating certain foods, including fried or spicy foods, increases acid in the stomach leading to reflux. Many people who have gastric reflux complain about headaches.
Medical conditions: In some situations, a person might think that their headache is linked to the food they are eating, but it just might be something more complicated. Trigeminal neuralgia is one possibility. This is a headache that occurs after eating when you suffer from diabetes. Another possibility, although it is rare, is a brain tumor.
You have likely heard people say, “I have a brain freeze,” jokingly. Well, there is, in fact, something called brain freeze. It is a temporary headache and sharp sensation that disappears within a few minutes and is usually due to consuming drinks or foods that are very cold. Of course, this is not serious and can be easily avoided.
Home remedies for headache after eating
Some people who suffer from headaches after eating turn to nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs to treat their pain. Those who experience migraines can be prescribed beta-blockers or even antidepressants once the symptoms start. However, there are more natural remedies that have been found to bring relief.
Here are some examples of home remedies for headaches after eating:
Biofeedback: Electronic sensors monitor body functions and data fed back to the patient through sound and computer images to help teach the patient how to control responses such as tight muscles, heart rate, etc., for preventing headache.
Acupuncture: Needles are inserted under the skin to improve energy flow. Some studies show that acupuncture can be effective is preventing acute migraines.
Neck stretches: Muscle tension can add to the pain of a headache, so doing muscle stretches can be helpful when symptoms are starting to surface.
Aerobics: Brisk walking, swimming, and cycling have been known to reduce the frequency and severity of headaches for some people. Some women experience headache after eating during pregnancy, and aerobics is considered safe for them.
Gentle massage: If you can locate the optical nerve and gently massage the back of the head, as well as the base of the skull, it can bring headache relief.
Cold compress: Applying a cold compress to the affected area of the head can be helpful in cases of the throbbing headache.
Meditation: Meditating can level off blood pressure, which is why it can help with headaches. This is something that is easy to do in your own home or you can join a meditation class.
Lavender oil: This oil has a calming effect and has been used by many people who suffer from headaches. Some people put drops of lavender into boiling water and inhale the steam, or they apply the oil right on their temples.
When to see a doctor for headache after eating
There are cases when the headache trigger is obvious. For example, you may be in tune with the fact that every time you eat a certain food you get a headache. Simply avoiding that food will prevent the painful occurrence. Unfortunately, it isn’t always that simple. For some people, multiple foods can be the trigger, making it more difficult to track. In other cases, as we have established, it isn’t just food that is the trigger, and there may be a need to seek medical help.
You really need to consider seeing a doctor if home remedies and even painkillers aren’t helping relieve the discomfort. If your headaches seem to be getting more frequent or are getting worse, you should seek medical attention. When you experience any of the following symptoms along with a headache, it is important to get to a doctor:
- Changes in vision and speech
- Muscle weakness
- Numbness on one side of the body
- Trouble walking
- Nausea or vomiting
- High fever
Living with constant headaches can be difficult to manage. For many people, there is no quick and easy fix. It can take a lot of trial and error to discover what will bring you the most relief. Whatever you do, don’t give up. Since there are many treatment options, you are bound to find something that will work to ease the pain or eliminate the headaches all together. It is also important to not suffer in silence. Use the medical community and resources around you to help you cope. For example, the Cleveland Clinic has a long list of resources for people who suffer from headaches. The National Headache Foundation is another source for information on headaches, including triggers and support.