What is a hunger headache?
This type of headache happens when you’re hungry. You’re more likely to experience hunger headaches when there are long periods of time between meals. They can also happen when you’re not eating enough.
How does a hunger headache affect my body?
Headaches when you’re hungry are a signal that you need more calories. You may experience:
- Hypoglycemia (low blood sugar): Your brain is not getting the energy it needs from blood sugar (glucose) in food.
- Muscle tension: Your body releases a substance (histamine) that causes muscles to tense up.
- Stress: A drop in blood sugar can trigger the release of stress hormones that cause a headache.
Symptoms and Causes
What causes headaches when you’re hungry?
Hunger and low blood sugar headaches can have many causes, including:
- Dieting and new eating regimens, like intermittent fasting.
- Drinking more or fewer caffeinated beverages than usual, including coffee or soda.
- Eating at irregular times.
- Long periods of time between meals, such as when you’re having a busy day or fasting.
- Not getting enough sleep.
- Skipping meals.
What are the symptoms of hunger headaches?
Most people experience pain toward the front of their heads that may extend to both sides. You may also have:
- Mild nausea.
- Muscle tension in your neck or shoulders.
With low blood sugar headaches, you may also experience:
Diagnosis and Tests
How is a hunger headache diagnosed?
You can diagnose it yourself by listening to your body. If you’re experiencing dull head pain and it’s been a while since you’ve eaten, it’s probably a hunger headache.
Management and Treatment
How do I treat headaches when I’m hungry?
Treatment includes eating something. The best option is a balanced meal with foods full of vitamins and nutrients and plenty of water. If you’re short on time, a healthy snack can help.
How soon will I feel better?
Once your body starts digesting food, you should start feeling better. Hunger headaches typically go away within 30 minutes of eating.
What if I don’t feel better?
If you don’t feel better after eating, an over-the-counter pain reliever can help.
How can I prevent hunger headaches?
You can lower your risk of hunger and low blood sugar headaches by:
- Drinking water throughout the day to stay hydrated.
- Eating frequent, smaller meals.
- Getting a good night’s rest.
- Scheduling breaks throughout the day for snacks or meals.
What if I’m delaying eating because I get headaches afterward?
The issue might not be when you’re eating, but what you’re eating. Certain foods are more likely to cause headaches, including:
- Aged cheeses, like feta, Parmesan and Swiss.
- Foods that contain the additive monosodium glutamate (MSG).
- Dried meats and fruits.
- High-sugar and processed foods, such as packaged cookies and crackers.
- Meat products like hot dogs and pepperoni that contain additives (nitrates and nitrites).
What foods should I eat instead?
Your diet should include:
- Plenty of water.
- Limited amounts of caffeine, high-sugar and processed foods.
- Raw fruits and vegetables, or cooked ones with little added fat or sugar.
- Brown rice and whole-grain bread.
- Nuts and seeds.
- Meats and fish that aren’t cured, smoked or dried.
Outlook / Prognosis
Are hunger headaches ever something to worry about?
Getting headaches when you’re hungry can be bothersome. But they don’t affect your health. Some headaches and symptoms can be a sign of a medical issue, though.
When should I consider seeing a healthcare provider?
You may want to see your healthcare provider for mild headaches that:
- Don’t respond to over-the-counter medications.
- Require more than the recommended medication dose to get relief.
- Interfere with daily activities.
Important: Severe headaches that come on quickly may be a sign of a stroke. Seek immediate care if you experience a sudden and severe headache along with other symptoms, such as:
- Slurred speech.
- Vision loss.
What if hunger headaches are due to dieting?
Your body is sensitive to changes in eating habits. When you’re dieting, it’s natural to feel hungry. But when hunger pangs come with head pain, try eating a little more. You might not lose weight as fast, but it’ll spare you the discomfort of regular headaches.
What if I can’t eat for a day because I’m fasting for religious purposes?
Fasting headaches are common. You can lower your risk by planning ahead.
A few days before the fast:
- Avoid caffeine.
- Eat nutritious meals.
- Increase the amount of water you’re drinking.
The meal before the fast:
- Consume complex carbohydrates, like potatoes and other starchy vegetables, with some protein.
- Don’t eat portions that are larger than normal.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Hunger headaches are your body’s way of signaling that you need calories. They don’t go away on their own. The best treatment is eating a balanced meal with protein, fruits, vegetables and carbohydrates. Most people don’t need to see their healthcare provider for a hunger headache. You may need care if your symptoms are severe or don’t respond to pain relievers, though.
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