Headache after Eating

Experiencing a headache after eating certain foods may be a symptom of a medical condition. It is often accompanied by other symptoms and may be prevented by avoiding specific foods. However, there are some cases when medical consultation for proper diagnosis and treatment are needed.

Experiencing a headache after eating is one of the symptoms that may occur in some medical conditions. Headache, or cephalalgia, can occur in people of different ages and may be related to a various disorders. It may also be related to poor lifestyle, which leads to sleep deprivation, stress, and use of chemical substances.

Certain foods can trigger a dull pain or throbbing sensation in the head, such as salty or sweet foods, but sometimes it is not the food itself which is the cause of the headache, but rather, an underlying medical condition. If you often experience a headache after eating, this information may be helpful. It is advisable, however, to obtain proper diagnosis and treatment of your condition by consulting a doctor.

Causes of headache after eating

Here are some possible causes that may trigger a headache after eating:

1. Hypertension

High blood pressure or hypertension is a common disorder that may manifest as a headache after eating salty foods. A high salt intake in a person who has high blood pressure tends to cause a headache. The kidneys, which normally control the amount of salt that enters the bloodstream, may not be able to handle the excess salt load, which draws water into the bloodstream. This causes an increase in blood volume, which triggers an increase in blood pressure, leading to headaches after meals.

Refrain from eating foods that have a high salt content and consult a doctor for proper medical treatment of your high blood pressure.

2. Diabetes

This is a condition characterized by having high blood sugar levels that can trigger a headache after eating something sweet. Eating sugary foods causes a sudden rise in blood sugar levels, which triggers the release of a hormone called insulin. Insulin increases the absorption of sugar into the cells, resulting in hypoglycemia or lowering of blood sugar levels. When large amounts of insulin are released in response to sugar intake, a "sugar crash" occurs and the brain does not receive enough sugar. This signals the body to send more blood flow to the brain. These changes lead to the expansion or dilation of blood vessels in the brain, which triggers a headache. The increase in blood flow to the brain can also cause the blood vessels to contract and dilate, resulting in increased blood pressure, also causing throbbing pains in the head.

To avoid this type of headaches, it is best to avoid sugary foods, especially if you have high blood sugar levels or diabetes. Be sure to obtain proper medical advice for the treatment of diabetes which is associated with many possible complications.

3. Migraines

Migraine headaches are characterized by a throbbing sensation causing pain in the head. These may occur as a severe headache only on one side of one's head, which may be triggered after eating certain foods.

Examples of foods that can lead to a migraine attack include buttermilk, yogurt, blue cheese, sour cream, and other foods that contain tyramine. Other foods such as chocolate, cured meats, chicken liver, bananas, citrus fruits, soy sauce and foods containing additives can also lead to a headache after eating.

Migraine headaches may be accompanied by nausea and vomiting, lightheadedness and increased sensitivity to light. If you observe that you experience a headache after eating certain foods, it is best to avoid that particular food item.

4. Gastric Reflux Disease

Eating spicy food and fried foods can increase the acid production in the stomach. Sometimes the acid seeps upward into the esophagus, towards the throat, a condition which is also known as acid reflux. This condition is often accompanied by headache after eating, heartburn, nausea, chest pain or discomfort, and coughing.

To avoid experiencing these symptoms, avoid eating fatty, spicy and sour foods, as well as alcoholic and carbonated beverages. Stop smoking, since this can also trigger acid reflux.

5. Food Allergy

The immune system of the body sometimes responds to certain foods which it perceives as a threat to the body by activating mast cells to release histamines in the blood. This allergic response gives rise to many symptoms like facial swelling, hives, runny nose, wheezing, abdominal cramps, lightheadedness, and headaches. Sometimes food allergy can trigger a severe reaction which can be life threatening. For this reason, it is best to avoid specific foods that are known to trigger an attack and to be ready with some medications in case severe symptoms are experienced. Seek medical help immediately when difficulty in breathing or swallowing occurs.

6. Food Intolerance

Some people cannot tolerate eating food products containing lactose (such as milk products) or gluten (wheat, barley, rye-containing products). When eaten, these foods lead to negative reactions manifested as diarrhea, vomiting, and headaches.

Avoiding food products known to contain these substances will prevent symptoms of food intolerance, including headaches. However, to prevent a deficiency in nutrition, one must learn which foods can be used as substitutes to obtain important nutrients like protein, vitamins and minerals contained in these foods.

When to see a doctor

A headache may be a harmless symptom if it occurs occasionally. However, when it is severe, or if it occurs more frequently than usual, it is best to seek medical advice to rule out possible medical causes. Other indications for scheduling a doctor's visit include failure to obtain relief from over-the-counter drugs, disruption of normal activities or work, and distress from frequent headaches.

One must immediately call 911 or go to the nearest hospital when a headache is sudden and severe, and is accompanied by any of these symptoms:

  • Confusion
  • Stiff neck
  • Incomprehensible speech
  • Fainting
  • High fever (> 102 -104 F or 39 - 40 C)
  • Weakness, paralysis, or numbness on one side of the body
  • Vision changes
  • Difficulty speaking
  • Trouble walking
  • Nausea or vomiting not related to a hangover

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