Most people know that regular exercise has many benefits. It can help you lose or maintain your weight, build muscle and reduce stress. However, what you may not know is that too much exercise can trigger headaches. These are known as exertion headaches, and they most often occur from adolescence through middle age.
What is an Exertion Headache?
Exertion, or activity-related, headaches typically occur during some form of prolonged strenuous exercise or other activity. In some cases, they can be just as painful as migraines and share the same symptoms such as nausea, vomiting and sensitivity to light and sound. While most of these headaches disappear after exercise is stopped, some can last for as long as two days.
Causes of Exertion Headaches
When you are involved in strenuous exercise or activities, there is increased blood pressure in the vessels of your brain. This, in turn, results in headaches. They can be triggered by a number of activities, some of which include:
- Long distance running
- Swimming, rowing or scuba diving
- Sexual activity
It is essential to note that exertion headaches can be triggered due to other factors as well. In short, the following factors are usually the underlying causes of exertion headaches. If you can relate to one or more of the factors listed here, your chance of experiencing an exertion headache is increased.
- Consuming alcoholic beverages
- Poor nutrition
- High humidity or heat
- High altitudes or changes in barometric pressure
- Low blood sugar
- Family history of migraines or exertion headaches
Preventing Exertion Headaches
Since most exertion headaches seem to occur during hot or humid weather, limit your physical activity during those times. Additionally, avoid exercising at high altitudes or if you are aware of any changes in barometric pressure. Furthermore, warm-ups prior to strenuous activity can help prevent exertion headaches.
Always drink plenty of plain, fresh water before and during exercises and avoid such things as alcoholic drinks and coffee. Both alcohol and caffeine can cause your body to become dehydrated, which can trigger headaches, especially when combined with rigorous exercise.
When to See a Doctor
There are some times when you may want to consider seeing a doctor before you participate in any physical endurance challenges. If you can relate to any of the following factors or conditions, you should make an appointment with your physician for a thorough checkup before you start an intense exercise regimen:
- Obese or overweight
- Low blood sugar
- Intense or sudden headaches that last a long time
Treating Existing Exertion Headaches
If you try everything listed above to prevent a headache but you still develop one, there are several things you can do. Some home treatments you may wish to try include scalp and neck massage, ice packs, moist heat and various over-the-counter medications such as ibuprofen or aspirin.
Your doctor may prescribe medications such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory agents, indomethacin or propranolol. All of these medications can be taken before strenuous activity. When you follow these useful tips, you will easily be able to manage your headaches.