Diabetes and Migraines: What You Should Know

Diabetes mellitus is a group of diseases that impairs glucose metabolism due to insufficient insulin production, insulin impairment, or insulin deficiency. When a person has diabetes, many variables can result in high blood sugar (hyperglycemia) and low blood sugar (hypoglycemia).

Carbohydrate intake, medications, exercise, and illness are just some of the variables that may affect blood sugar. When a person’s blood sugars are too high or too low, they can experience headaches.

If you have diabetes and are experiencing headaches, it’s always helpful to find your triggers and test your blood sugar. Understanding how you feel when your blood sugar is high or low can help you to identify and treat your blood sugar effectively, while also resolving your headaches.

Although there is a known association between diabetes and headaches, the literature on diabetes and migraines is lacking and more research is needed in this area.

Learn more about the correlation between diabetes and headaches, and how migraines can be more prevalent in people who have frequent episodes of low blood sugar.

Women with diabetes laying down from a headache associated with low blood sugar

Fertnig/E+/Getty Images

Migraines

There are many different types of migraines that vary in severity, causes, placement, and accompanying symptoms. All types of migraines are forms of headaches that may impact your whole head, behind your eyes (ocular), in the front or back, or on both sides.

Some migraines are associated with temporary aura (wavy or blurry vision, numb or tingling skin, speech changes), sensitivity to light, and/or nausea. Research indicates that migraines—especially migraines with aura—have been associated with high blood pressure and high cholesterol.

Associations Between Diabetes and Migraines

A 2019 study suggests that having migraines decreases the risk of developing type 2 diabetes in women. Researchers also found that active migraines decreased prior to a diabetes diagnosis.

Researchers investigated the association of diabetes and migraines within a cohort of 74,247 French women. Self-reported questionnaires on migraines were collected from 2004-2014, and diabetes diagnosis was identified based on findings from a drug reimbursement database.

They found a lower incidence of diabetes (about 30%) in women who experienced active migraines than in those who did not experience migraines. They also discovered a decrease in migraine frequency prior to a diabetes diagnosis.

Researchers concluded that one possible cause of this association is that the women who experienced migraines were more likely to have low blood sugars (hypoglycemia), which can be a migraine trigger.

It should be noted, however, that there are several limitations to this study. First, migraine frequency was self-reported. It is possible for people to over-report or under-report migraines or misdiagnose themselves.

Second, type 2 diabetes cases that were not treated with drugs were not reported. And lastly, the cohort of women is not representative of a robust population, as this study was limited to a population of French women who were health conscious.

Another study published in the Journal of Diabetes and Medical Disorders investigated the relationship between type 2 diabetes and migraines, and observed no association between prevalence of migraines and people who had diabetes and those who did not.

However, they did find that people with type 2 diabetes experiencing hypoglycemia had an increase in migraine prevalence. In addition, they found that the longer a person had type 2 diabetes, the more likely they were to experience migraines.

Hypo- and Hyperglycemia Migraine Associations

People with diabetes may experience headaches due to low or high blood sugar. These types of headaches are referred to as secondary headaches, meaning they are caused by an underlying condition—in this case, diabetes.

Migraines are defined as primary headaches because they are usually not related to another condition. Instead, they are often related to other triggers, such as food, light, hormones, and stress, to name a few.

While some literature suggests that hypoglycemia in diabetes can increase the prevalence of migraines, it’s plausible that headaches associated with diabetes are not necessarily migraines.

Blood sugar that is too low (typically less than 70 mg/dL) is referred to as hypoglycemia. Hypoglycemia can deny your brain of glucose, which can trigger a headache.

According to the National Headache Foundation, a hypoglycemia headache often feels like a dull throbbing pain in the temples. It can also be accompanied by other hypoglycemic symptoms, including shakiness, confusion, sweating, increased heartbeat, and fatigue. It is usually not, however, accompanied by other typical migraine symptoms such as aura.

Treatment of hypoglycemia is essential to prevent further and more dangerous complications. Low blood sugars that are not treated promptly can result in a hypoglycemic event, resulting in coma and even death.

Hyperglycemia (high blood sugar levels) may cause headaches due to changes in hormones (which can cause constriction of the blood vessels in the brain) or dehydration. When blood sugars are too high, your body tries to compensate by ridding the body of extra sugar through the urine. Excess urination can cause dehydration, which can result in headaches.

The more severe your hyperglycemia is, the more likely you can become dehydrated, influencing your susceptibility to headaches.

Summary

People with diabetes are more likely to experience headaches, including migraines, if they have extreme fluctuations in blood sugars. It appears that hypoglycemia has a stronger association with migraine frequency, but more research is needed to know for sure.

A Word From Verywell

If you have diabetes and are experiencing headaches often, you will benefit from monitoring your blood sugars. Keeping your blood sugars in a healthy range can reduce your risk of complications and unwanted symptoms, including headaches.

If you are experiencing frequent episodes of hypoglycemia, you may need to change your diet or medication regimen. Talk to your doctor if you are unsure what your blood sugar targets should be. If your blood sugars are at goal and you are experiencing headaches often, contact your doctor to get to the bottom of it.

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