Can Headaches Be a Symptom of Diabetes?

Diabetes is a chronic condition that affects how well your body produces, reacts to, and/or uses insulin, a hormone created by the pancreas that regulates the level of glucose (sugar) in your blood. 

Some people experience headaches as a symptom of diabetes when their blood sugar is too high or too low. You can also experience headaches due to common diabetes complications, such as high blood pressure or sleep apnea.

This article will explore the relationship between diabetes and headaches, the potential causes of headaches in people with diabetes, and treatment options for diabetes-related headaches.

Types of Diabetes

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are three common types of diabetes:

  • Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disorder that prevents your body from making insulin. It is often diagnosed in children and teens. About 5—10% of people with diabetes in the United States have type 1 diabetes.
  • Type 2 diabetes is related to insulin resistance, which affects the way your body responds to insulin. It is typically diagnosed in adults. Around 90—95% of Americans with diabetes have type 2 diabetes.
  • Gestational diabetes is diagnosed during pregnancy in people who have not shown signs of diabetes in the past.

Are Headaches a Symptom of Diabetes?

Headaches are not always a symptom of diabetes. However, a few studies suggest that there is an association between diabetes and migraine headaches. According to research, both diabetes and migraines can be due to hormonal imbalances, blood sugar levels, and the body’s reaction to insulin. 

People with diabetes can experience headaches due to:

Read on to learn more about how common diabetes symptoms, such as uncontrolled blood sugar, can lead to frequent headaches.

What Is a Migraine?

A migraine is a recurring, often severe headache that causes pulsing and/or throbbing pain. Migraines may also cause nausea and light sensitivity.

Low Blood Sugar

Many people with type 1 diabetes and some people with type 2 diabetes experience hypoglycemia, or episodes of low blood sugar, up to two times per week. Causes of low blood sugar can include excess insulin, side effects of certain diabetes medications, exercise, and eating habits, such as the amount of carbohydrates in a meal and how long it’s been since you’ve eaten. 

People with diabetes who have more frequent episodes of hypoglycemia are also more likely to report experiencing chronic migraine headaches. Also known as insulin shock, low blood sugar can cause migraines due to the activity of calcitonin gene-related peptide (CGRP), a neuropeptide (chemical messenger in the brain) involved in inflammation. Low blood sugar levels also prompt the release of fight-or-flight hormones, which can lead to headaches due to vasodilation (blood vessel dilation) in the brain. 

In addition to headaches, common symptoms of low blood sugar include:

  • Shakiness and trembling
  • Pale skin
  • Excessive sweating
  • Dizziness
  • Confusion
  • Anxiety
  • Nightmares
  • Seizures
  • Blurry vision
  • Numbness in the face, mouth, or lips
  • Muscle weakness
  • Drowsiness

High Blood Sugar

Hyperglycemia, or high blood sugar, happens when the body doesn’t have enough insulin or isn’t able to use it correctly. 

Excessive urination, which is one of the most common symptoms of high blood sugar, can cause extreme thirst and dehydration (loss of fluids). Studies indicate that dehydration can lead to migraines and sudden-onset, severe “thunderclap” headaches in people with diabetes. In some cases, blood sugar can rise due to an illness (such as a cold or the flu), which can also lead to dehydration and headaches.

Research also suggests that people with uncontrolled diabetes may experience severe headaches as a sign of seizures, which is a rare complication of hyperglycemia.

High Blood Pressure

Many people with diabetes also have hypertension, or high blood pressure. Studies suggest that patients who have overweight or obesity, have diabetes, and have high blood pressure are more likely to experience chronic migraine headaches.

In turn, evidence indicates that people with chronic migraine may also have an increased risk of being diagnosed with diabetes and hypertension during their lifetime. Some researchers believe the association may be related to the role played by insulin resistance in the development of diabetes, hypertension, and chronic migraine.

Sleep Apnea

Obstructive sleep apnea is a health condition that causes your airways to become blocked while you sleep, leading to intermittent pauses in your breathing during the night. People with sleep apnea have a significantly higher risk of diabetes, and over 50% of people with type 2 diabetes have sleep apnea. 

If you have both diabetes and OSA, you may experience morning headaches due to disruptions in the flow of oxygen to the brain during sleep. Over a quarter of people with sleep apnea experience morning headaches. Many people with OSA also experience chronic migraine, possibly due to lack of sleep and poor sleep quality.

How Common Is Diabetes?

Diabetes is extremely common in the United States, especially type 2 diabetes. An estimated 37 million Americans, or 1 in 10 people, meet the criteria for a diabetes diagnosis.

Treatments and Management of Headaches

The best way to manage most diabetes-related headaches is to treat the underlying cause. 

If you experience headaches related to high or low blood sugar, it’s important to get your blood sugar levels under control. Managing your blood sugar is also key to preventing serious diabetes complications, such as heart disease, kidney disease, stroke, nerve damage, and vision loss. Typical blood sugar target ranges are 80—130 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL) before a meal and under 180 mg/dL up to two hours after eating.

You can manage your blood sugar levels by: 

  • Checking your blood sugar levels as often as your healthcare provider recommends
  • Taking your diabetes medications exactly as prescribed
  • Exercising regularly
  • Limiting alcohol use
  • Sticking to a heart-healthy, diabetes-friendly diet, such as eating fewer sugary and salty foods and eating more foods with healthy fats
  • Visiting a healthcare provider regularly for an A1C test, which measures your average blood sugar levels over the previous three months

If your blood sugar is low (less than 70 mg/dL), the American Diabetes Association (ADA) recommends that you follow the “15-15” rule. The 15-15 rule involves eating 15 grams of carbohydrates and checking your blood sugar again after 15 minutes until your levels go above 70 mg/dL.

Meanwhile, you can lower your blood pressure through healthy lifestyle changes, such as: 

  • Quitting smoking
  • Reducing stress
  • Cutting back on high-salt foods
  • Limiting alcohol intake
  • Getting enough physical activity
  • Eating a well-balanced diet
  • Getting enough sleep
  • Losing weight if necessary

Obstructive sleep apnea is typically treated with a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) device, which opens up your airways to allow for more restful, restorative sleep. Studies show that consistent CPAP use is associated with an 80—90% decrease in morning headaches among people with sleep apnea.

Finally, if you have migraine headaches, some steps that may help you to prevent or manage your symptoms include:

  • Resting in a cool, dark room
  • Avoiding common migraine triggers, such as caffeine and alcohol
  • Staying hydrated
  • Managing stress
  • Taking medications as prescribed

When to See Your Healthcare Provider

You should schedule a visit a healthcare provider at least every three months if your diabetes symptoms, such as high blood sugar, aren’t under control. If your symptoms are well-managed, visit a healthcare provider every six months to check for any possible complications.

Talk to your healthcare provider if your headaches keep coming back, won’t go away, or are getting worse. You should also discuss your symptoms with a doctor if your recurring headaches are accompanied by other symptoms, such as nausea or sensitivity to light and sound.

Call 911 or visit the emergency room if your severe headache is accompanied by:

  • Muscle weakness
  • Jaw pain
  • Blurry vision
  • Drooping on one side of the face and/or body
  • Vomiting
  • Confusion
  • Fever
  • Difficulty walking or balancing
  • Drowsiness

Diabetic Ketoacidosis

Uncontrolled high blood sugar can lead to diabetic ketoacidosis (a diabetic coma), which is a life-threatening medical emergency. Call 911 or visit an emergency room immediately if you notice any of the signs of diabetic ketoacidosis:

  • Fruity, sweet-smelling breath
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Extremely dry mouth
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting


Headaches aren’t a direct symptom of diabetes, a chronic condition that affects the way the body produces and/or responds to insulin (a hormone that controls blood sugar levels). However, some people with diabetes experience headaches as a result of hyperglycemia (high blood sugar) or hypoglycemia (low blood sugar). Others have headaches due to diabetes-related conditions like hypertension (high blood pressure) and obstructive sleep apnea (OSA).

If you experience diabetes-related headaches, it’s important to manage your blood sugar. Taking your diabetes medicines regularly, checking your blood sugar on a daily basis, and making healthy lifestyle changes (such as avoiding sugary foods) may help you find headache relief. Visit a healthcare provider if your headaches are extremely severe, are getting worse, or aren’t going away.

A Word From Verywell

Headaches are a frustrating symptom, no matter the cause. However, many people with diabetes can find headache relief by managing their blood sugar and taking care of their overall health.

24 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. MedlinePlus. Diabetes.

  2. Islam MR, Nyholt DR. Glucose-related traits and risk of migraine-a potential mechanism and treatment consideration. Genes (Basel). 2022;13(5):730. doi:10.3390/genes13050730

  3. U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. What is diabetes?.

  4. Arca KN, Halker Singh RB. The hypertensive headache: a reviewCurr Pain Headache Rep. 2019;23(5):30. doi:10.1007/s11916-019-0767-z

  5. Spałka J, Kędzia K, Kuczyński W, Kudrycka A, Małolepsza A, Białasiewicz P, Mokros Ł. Morning headache as an obstructive sleep apnea-related symptom among sleep clinic patients-a cross-section analysis. Brain Sci. 2020;10(1):57. doi:10.3390/brainsci10010057

  6. MedlinePlus. Migraine.

  7. American Diabetes Association. Hypoglycemia (low blood glucose).

  8. Haghighi FS, Rahmanian M, Namiranian N, Arzaghi SM, Dehghan F, Chavoshzade F, Sepehri F. Migraine and type 2 diabetes; is there any association? J Diabetes Metab Disord. 2016;15(1):37. doi:10.1186/s40200-016-0241-y

  9. Fagherazzi G, El Fatouhi D, Fournier A, Gusto G, Mancini FR, Balkau B, Boutron-Ruault MC, Kurth T, Bonnet F. Associations between migraine and type 2 diabetes in women: findings from the E3N Cohort Study. JAMA Neurol. 2019;76(3):257-263. doi:10.1001/jamaneurol.2018.3960

  10. Mergenthaler P, Lindauer U, Dienel GA, Meisel A. Sugar for the brain: the role of glucose in physiological and pathological brain function. Trends Neurosci. 2013;36(10):587-97. doi:10.1016/j.tins.2013.07.001

  11. American Diabetes Association. Hyperglycemia (high blood glucose).

  12. Arca KN, Halker Singh RB. Dehydration and headache. Curr Pain Headache Rep. 2021;25(8):56. doi:10.1007/s11916-021-00966-z

  13. Alakkas A, Chen P, Chen M, Longardner K, Piccioni DE. Hyperglycaemia-related occipital lobe seizures. JRSM Open. 2020;11(6):2054270420920999. doi:10.1177/2054270420920999

  14. Fava A, Pirritano D, Consoli D, et al. Chronic migraine in women is associated with insulin resistance: a cross-sectional studyEur J Neurol. 2014;21(2):267-272. doi:10.1111/ene.12289

  15. MedlinePlus. Obstructive sleep apnea - adults.

  16. Muraki I, Wada H, Tanigawa T. Sleep apnea and type 2 diabetes. J Diabetes Investig. 2018;9(5):991-997. doi:10.1111/jdi.12823

  17. Rivera-Mancilla E, Al-Hassany L, Villalón CM, MaassenVanDenBrink A. Metabolic aspects of migraine: association with obesity and diabetes mellitus. Front Neurol. 2021;12:686398. doi:10.3389/fneur.2021.686398

  18. U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Type 2 diabetes.

  19. U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Manage blood sugar.

  20. American Heart Association. Changes you can make to manage high blood pressure.

  21. U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Key sleep disorders.

  22. Suzuki K, Miyamoto M, Miyamoto T, Numao A, Suzuki S, Sakuta H, Iwasaki A, Watanabe Y, Fujita H, Hirata K. Sleep apnoea headache in obstructive sleep apnoea syndrome patients presenting with morning headache: comparison of the ICHD-2 and ICHD-3 beta criteria. J Headache Pain. 2015;16:56. doi:10.1186/s10194-015-0540-6

  23. U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Your diabetes care schedule.

  24. National Health Service. Headaches.

By Laura Dorwart
Laura Dorwart is a health journalist with particular interests in mental health, pregnancy-related conditions, and disability rights. She has published work in VICE, SELF, The New York Times, The Guardian, The Week, HuffPost, BuzzFeed Reader, Catapult, Pacific Standard,, Insider,, TalkPoverty, and many other outlets.