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Can Low Blood Sugar Cause Headaches?

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Can Low Blood Sugar Cause Headaches?

Table of Contents

Key Takeaways

  • Headaches can be a sign of low blood sugar, also known as hypoglycemia.
  • Hypoglycemia is common in people with type 1 and type 2 diabetes.
  • Monitoring your blood sugar levels and sticking to a consistent meal schedule can help you to manage and prevent episodes of hypoglycemia. 

Low blood sugar, also referred to as hypoglycemia, can cause unpleasant side effects, including headaches.

People with type 1 and type 2 diabetes are particularly prone to episodes of low blood sugar, but other people can also be affected.

Among people with diabetes, those who take insulin or other diabetes-related medication are at an additional risk of experiencing low blood sugar levels.

There are several ways you can manage and prevent hypoglycemia if you have diabetes, including monitoring your blood sugar levels, eating balanced meals and snacks regularly, being mindful of your alcohol consumption, and exercising safely according to your healthcare provider’s instructions.

For help customizing your meal plan, you can work with a registered dietitian to create an eating schedule that will keep your blood sugar levels stable.

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Understanding Low Blood Sugar (Hypoglycemia)

Hypoglycemia typically occurs when the levels of sugar in your blood drop below 70 mg/dL.

However, symptoms may not appear in some people until levels fall below 50 mg/dL.

These include:

  • Feeling shaky or jittery.
  • Hunger.
  • Fatigue.
  • Feeling dizzy, lightheaded, confused, or irritated.
  • Weakness.
  • Sweating.
  • Irregular or fast heartbeat.
  • Headache.
  • Trouble seeing or speaking clearly.
  • Changes in consciousness (sign of severe hypoglycemia).

Diabetes is a common risk factor for hypoglycemia.

In fact, an estimated 4 out of 5 people with type 1 diabetes and 1 out of 2 people with type 2 diabetes experience a hypoglycemic episode at least once in a four week period.

Other risk factors include:

  • Using insulin or other diabetes medications. 
  • Being 65 or older.
  • Having a history of hypoglycemia.
  • Kidney disease.
  • Heart disease.
  • Cognitive impairment.
  • Other health conditions.

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Why Does Low Blood Sugar Cause Headaches?

Symptoms of low blood sugar related to the nervous system, including headaches, heart palpitations, and anxiety, are influenced by changes in hormones and neurotransmitters like norepinephrine and acetylcholine.

Some clinical studies have also demonstrated that episodes of hypoglycemia caused by fasting can activate the insulin receptor, which can trigger migraine and headache pain.

Cause of Low Blood Sugar Headaches

There are several factors that can contribute to the development of low blood sugar headaches.

Understanding the possible causes of these episodes can help prevent them from occurring in the future.

Skipping or Delaying Meals

Fasting, skipping, or delaying meals can cause low blood sugar headaches, especially if you take insulin or other diabetes medications. 

Not consuming enough carbohydrates in particular can also lower your blood sugar, since carbohydrates are broken down into sugars by the digestive system.

In fact, some people with migraine report craving carbohydrates right before a migraine attack, and eating carbohydrates at that moment can help resolve the pain.  

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Incorrect Insulin Administration

It’s important to follow your healthcare provider’s instructions when taking your insulin.

Taking too much insulin can cause a mismatch between circulating blood sugar and insulin levels, which can cause hypoglycemia.

Taking your insulin at the wrong time, taking insulin without food to correct a drop in blood sugar levels, and not eating enough after your insulin shot can also cause low blood sugar.

Medications

There are two types of diabetes medications that can also cause low blood sugar:

  • Sulfonylureas.
  • Meglitinides.

If you’re prescribed either medication, it’s important to talk with your provider about how to prevent low blood sugar levels. 

Exercising

Exercising naturally lowers your blood sugar levels.

This effect can last for hours after you’ve finished exercising.

People with diabetes may benefit from monitoring their blood sugar levels before, during, and after exercise to ensure their levels don’t drop too low.

Adjusting your medicine and carbohydrate intake according to your physical activity can also help to prevent low blood sugar, as can eating a snack right before exercising.

Drinking Alcohol

Drinking alcohol can make it harder to keep your blood sugar levels steady.

If you drink too much alcohol without eating enough food, blood sugar levels can drop.

Drinking alcohol can also make it harder to notice the first symptoms of low blood sugar, which can lead to more severe symptoms.

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How to Manage and Prevent Low Blood Sugar Headaches

There are several strategies that can help most people to prevent low blood sugar headaches, including people with diabetes.

Eat Regular, Balanced Meals

Eating balanced meals regularly will help to keep your blood sugar levels stable.

Including a variety of carbohydrates, fats, and proteins at meal and snack time can also help people with and without diabetes to avoid drastic changes in blood sugar levels.

Monitor Blood Sugar Levels

If you have diabetes, monitoring your blood sugar throughout the day will help prevent dips in your blood sugar levels.

Consult with your healthcare provider about whether a blood glucose meter or continuous glucose monitor (CGM) is best for you.

Properly Adjust Medications or Insulin Doses

Adjusting your insulin or medications when you exercise, delay or skip meals, or consume alcohol will help to stabilize your blood sugar levels if you have diabetes.

For guidance on how best to adjust your medications, reach out to your healthcare provider.

Keep Glucose Tablets or Snacks on Hand

Keeping glucose tablets and refined carbohydrate-rich snacks or beverages, such as hard or gummy candy, fruit juice, or regular soda, on hand can help to treat an episode of hypoglycemia.

The amount of carbohydrates needed to treat low blood sugar will vary depending on your size, age, medication, and blood sugar levels, which is why speaking with your healthcare provider will help you to prepare for this occasion.

According to a statement made by the American Diabetes Association (ADA) in 2013, if you detect low blood sugar through the use of a monitor, you can use glucose tablets to treat it following the below steps:

  • Take 15 g of glucose.
  • Wait 15 minutes.
  • Measure your blood sugar levels again.
  • Repeat the process if your levels are still low.

If your blood sugar levels reach a safer range of over 70 mg/dL but your next meal is more than an hour away, you should eat another snack with carbohydrates and protein to prevent your blood sugar levels from falling again.

Drink Plenty of Water

Drinking enough water throughout the day will keep you hydrated, which can help to prevent headaches.

Drinking water in place of sugary drinks can also help to manage blood sugar levels in people with diabetes.

Some studies suggest that drinking water before meals can help to lower fasting blood sugar levels.

However, there isn’t enough evidence to suggest that drinking water will treat low blood sugar. 

Takeaway

Low blood sugar, also called hypoglycemia, can cause unpleasant side effects, including headache.

People with type 1 and type 2 diabetes are at a higher risk of having low blood sugar.

Eating regular, balanced meals, using a blood sugar monitor, and taking and adjusting your insulin and other medications as directed can help to treat and prevent low blood sugar headaches.

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How a Dietitian Can Help

Planning balanced meals and snacks throughout the day can prevent low blood sugar from occurring.

Working with a registered dietitian will help you to build a healthy meal plan to keep your blood sugar levels stable and know which snacks can treat low blood sugar if and when it occurs. 

Book an appointment with Nourish and find a registered dietitian through your insurance.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do you get rid of low blood sugar headaches?

If you have diabetes, you may need to adjust your insulin and other diabetes medications in the case of low blood sugar.

Using glucose tablets or eating a balanced snack with carbohydrates can also help to restore blood sugar levels and resolve your headache.

Can low blood sugar give you a headache?

Low blood sugar can cause unpleasant side effects, including headache, tiredness, weakness, and hunger.

What is the best thing to eat when your blood sugar drops?

Taking 15 g of glucose tablets or consuming a food or beverage with the equivalent amount of carbohydrates can help to stabilize your blood sugar levels when they drop.

References

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