Headache Information-related to hunger/food

Can Hunger Cause Headaches?

Medically reviewed by Nancy Hammond, MD on April 18, 2019 — Written by Rachel Nall, MSN, CRNA

When you haven’t had enough to eat, you may not only hear your stomach rumble, but also feel a strong headache coming on.

A hunger headache occurs when your blood sugar starts to dip lower than usual. Being hungry can also trigger migraine headaches for some people.

What are the symptoms?

Hunger-related headaches often closely resemble tension headaches in symptoms.

Some of the common symptoms include:

  • dull pain
  • feeling as if there’s a tight band wrapped around your head
  • feeling pressure across your forehead or the sides of your head
  • feeling tension in your neck and shoulders

When your blood sugar gets low, you might notice other symptoms as well, including:

  • dizziness
  • fatigue
  • stomach pain
  • feeling cold
  • shakiness

These additional symptoms tend to come on gradually. You might start with just a dull headache, but as you delay eating, you may start to notice other symptoms.

Hunger headache symptoms tend to resolve within about 30 minutes of eating.

What causes it?

Hunger-related headaches may stem from a lack of food, drink, or both. Some of the most common hunger headache causes include:

  • Dehydration. If you haven’t had enough to drink, the thin layers of tissue in your brain can start to tighten and press on pain receptors.
  • Skipping meals. Calories in food are a measurement of energy. Your body needs a consistent energy source in the form of food as fuel. If you haven’t had anything to eat in a while, your blood sugar levels can drop. In response, your body releases hormones that signal your brain that you’re hungry. These same hormones may increase your blood pressure and tighten blood vessels in your body, triggering a headache.

How are they treated?

You can usually relieve a hunger headache by eating and drinking water.

Keep in mind that it can take 15 to 30 minutes for your body to adjust and re-build its blood sugar stores. If you feel like your blood sugar is really low or have a history of hypoglycemia, you may need to eat something high in sugar, such as fruit juice or soda. Just make sure to follow up with some protein later.

Are they preventable?

Unlike other types of headaches, hunger headaches are fairly easy to prevent. Try to avoid skipping meals. If you don’t have time for full meals throughout the day, try eating several smaller ones.

Keep portable snacks, such as energy bars or bags of trail mix, nearby when you go out or know you’ll have a busy day. Opt for things that you can eat quickly to keep your blood sugar stable.

Aim to drink plenty of water throughout the day. Not sure if you’re drinking enough? Check your urine — if it’s pale yellow, you’re probably hydrated. But if it’s dark yellow, or even brownish, it’s time to reach for some water.

What’s the outlook?

According to Seattle Children’s Hospital, an estimated 30 percent of people get a headache when they are hungry. If you’re prone to hunger headaches, keeping snacks with you and eating meals at regular intervals can help.

If you find you are experiencing hunger headaches several times a week, it might be worth following up with your healthcare provider. They may recommend changes to your eating habits or recommend testing your blood sugar levels more frequently.