Is Diabetes Causing Your Headache?

Headaches can have a multitude of origins ranging from thirst, stress, or environmental factors.

However, headaches are a common complaint across the age span.

They are annoying nuisances that cause disturbances during the day or even missed work and school.

But, is diabetes causing your headache? Or could there be another cause?

Understanding your headache

Headaches are any pain on the side, front, or back of the head. They can be dull or throbbing. They may come on quickly or last for days.

Headaches can classify as primary or secondary.

Primary headaches occur without other causes. Primary headaches are also known as cluster headaches, tension headaches, or migraines.

Secondary headaches occur due to different reasons such as allergies, trauma, medication, or illness. 

Diabetes and headaches

Those headaches could be directly related to your blood sugars if you live with Diabetes mellitus (type 1 diabetes, type 2 diabetes, or prediabetes).

In an individual with diabetes, headaches can be linked explicitly to blood sugar abnormalities and categorized as a secondary headache.

When your blood sugar is out of its desired range, it can trigger blood vessel response in your brain.

In addition, Cortisol, Norepinephrine, and Epinephrine cause hormonal changes and imbalances.

Often, insulin resistance occurring in prediabetes will cause a diabetes headache. The headache may be the first sign that something is amiss.

Hyperglycemia and headaches

When you eat a large amount of sugar or diabetes goes uncontrolled, hyperglycemia can occur.

Swelling in the tissue surrounding the brain can cause a sugar headache. Hyperglycemia occurs when blood sugar levels soar above 240 mg. dl. 

Diabetic Ketoacidosis (DKA) is a state where extremely high blood glucose levels are present and can induce a diabetic coma and be life-threatening. It develops in a short period in Type 1 diabetics.

Diabetes may go uncontrolled for days, but symptoms like these signal the onset:

  • Frequent urination
  • Extreme thirst polydipsia
  • Dehydration
  • Weakness
  • Weight loss
  • Nausea and vomiting 
  • Abdominal pain

Lactic acidosis is a metabolic state that begins when a person overproduces or underutilizes lactic acid.

Lactic acidosis can occur during DKA and can also be a byproduct of taking medications such as metformin.

Those with liver disease are more prone to develop this. 

Symptoms that represent a medical emergency include:

  • Fruity-smelling breath (a possible indication of Ketoacidosis)
  • Confusion
  • Jaundice 
  • Trouble breathing or shallow, rapid breathing

Treatment of Lactic Acidosis and DKA includes management of hyperglycemia. Insulin is necessary to lower high blood sugar levels.

Under careful medical guidance, the fluid and electrolyte balance must be restored. 

Hypoglycemia and headaches

When low blood sugar levels occur (<70mg/dl), this is considered hypoglycemia. There are many warning signs, and one includes headaches.

Glucose is the primary fuel for the body; when depleted, cells starve, and the body does not function properly.

Hypoglycemia can occur if you don’t take enough insulin, eat enough carbs, or exercise without refueling.

Headaches from low blood sugar tend to feel like a dull, throbbing pain in the temples.

Disturbances in a healthy diet such as fasting, avoiding carbohydrates, or skipping meals can result in a headache or a migraine headache.

In severe low blood sugar (<40mg/dl), the person may have mental changes and not function without assistance.

While high blood glucose levels can be life-threatening, low blood glucose levels can equally be dangerous.

If blood glucose levels fall below 70 mg/dl while sleeping, the person experiences nocturnal hypoglycemia, a potentially dangerous situation.

Studies suggest that almost half of all episodes of low blood glucose occur at night during sleep. Those that skip meals, have exercised before bedtime, or have an infection may experience this overnight occurrence.

Upon waking with a headache, if you are covered in sweat, or having a racing heartbeat, check your blood sugar. 

Reactive hypoglycemia refers to low blood sugar after a meal — usually within four hours after eating. It differs from a low blood sugar that occurs while fasting.

When this happens, your diabetes medications likely need to be adjusted. Mealtime insulin covers the carbohydrates consumed in a meal. If the dose is too high, you may be susceptible to low blood sugar levels after.

Hypoglycemic unawareness occurs when the person does not have the symptoms of hypoglycemia. Hormones cause symptoms of shakiness and sweating.

With hypoglycemic unawareness, these hormones are not released. Without the physical cues, the person can dip dangerously low and not be aware of the threatening situation. 

Is your headache caused by diabetes or something else? 

Diabetes insipidus is a rare disorder caused by damage to the pituitary gland or hypothalamus gland. Diabetes Insipidus occurs when the usual production, storage, and release of antidiuretic hormone is changed.

As a result, excessive excretion occurs, and your kidneys filter waste and fluid in excessive amounts. As a result, the body can’t properly balance the body’s fluid level.

So, extreme urination and thirst are constantly present. The fluid imbalance can lead to dehydration, exhaustion, and headaches. 

The kidneys manage the purification and levels of blood in the body. In kidney disease, damage to the glomeruli tissue causes high blood pressure.

Those that experience kidney disease and high blood pressure often remark that a sensation of pounding in their head accompanies an episode. Monitoring your blood pressure so that it is in desirable ranges may stave off headaches. 

Diabetes itself can lead to other disease processes and comorbidities. For example, individuals with Type 2 diabetes are at an increased risk of developing heart disease.

During a heart attack, some symptoms experienced include earache, jaw pain, headache, neck or back pain. If any of these occur together, this may warrant calling your physician or an emergency response team.

Possible headache causes

Hormonal issues common in people with diabetes, like hypothyroidism, can lead to a diabetic headache. In addition, women can develop gestational diabetes during pregnancy.

An oral glucose tolerance test is completed to diagnose it. Many cases resolve after pregnancy, but some do not.

As a result, the mother is prone to develop Type 2 diabetes postnatally. And the physician may continue to monitor with a glucose tolerance test.

If you frequently wake up in the mornings with a headache you can’t explain, It could be that you’re experiencing a headache from untreated sleep apnea. It occurs in the early hours of the morning. Headaches can last anywhere from thirty minutes to four hours.

When to see a doctor

Over-the-counter medications might be your go-to for primary headaches. But utilizing medication, without much resolve can cause a “rebound” headache from overuse.

Some find natural remedies such as magnesium supplementation, ginger, or chamomile tea have helped shorten the length of headaches.

In addition, rubbing essential oils, such as rosemary or peppermint, may be helpful on your temples and forehead.

General practices for stress reduction can aid in headache relief. Such activities as:

Many foods are known to trigger headaches. These include alcohol, chocolate, and caffeine. Even items like nuts, wheat, coffee, and milk can cause concerns in some. However, minimizing the amount of consumption may stave off headaches.

Most people regularly don’t meet their fluid needs. If you are dehydrated, say, from high blood sugar, being ill, exercising, or simply not drinking enough, you’re at risk of a dehydration headache.

Dehydration can also trigger migraines. Many migraine sufferers are not able to come out of it without the use of prescription medication. Make a point to drink plenty of water during the day and limit time outside during hot weather.

Seek emergency care if your headache:

  • Is sudden and severe
  • Accompanies a pain in the neck, back, chest, or abdomen, double vision, weakness, numbness, or difficulty speaking
  • If you feel confused or others report you are acting out of sorts

If headaches disrupt your daily activities, work, or personal life, ask your doctor for help. 


If blood sugar changes trigger headaches for you, work on getting and keeping your blood sugars in your target range. That will likely mean working with your healthcare team to manage your eating plan, physical activity, and diabetes medications.

If you do experience headaches frequently, don’t suffer! Talk with your provider to find out the type of headache you have and the best treatment form.

The more “up and down” your blood sugars are, the more likely you could get a headache. Once your blood glucose level stays consistently in a healthy range, your diabetes headache will subside.

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  1. Karin A M Janssens 1, Albertine J Oldehinkel, Frank C Verhulst, Joke A M Hunfeld, Johan Ormel, Judith G M Rosmalen. (2012 ). Symptom-specific associations between low cortisol responses and functional somatic symptoms: the TRAILS study. Psychoneuroendocrinology . Mar (37(3)), 332-40.
  2. Joseph I. Wolfsdorf, Katharine C. Garvey. (2016). Nocturnal Hypoglycemia. _Adult and Pediatric. Seventh Edition (Vol 1), 877.
  3. English P, Williams G Hyperglycaemic crises and lactic acidosis in diabetes mellitusPostgraduate Medical Journal 2004;80:253-261.

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