From Kate Rupley – I get headaches about 2pm after half marathons, and recently got one after a 10K. During half marathons I take salt tablets, and I drink Gatorade after them. It’s slowed them down, but I still get them. They usually last through the day and are gone by the next morning. I’d like to know what is going on and how do I stop the headaches?
the Coach – Honestly Kate, I have never had anyone come up to me with this problem before, so you are the first. I didn’t know people had this problem, but since you do, I figured that many others must as well. So I did a little research and this is what I found…
A young lady posed the same question as you in arunning forum looking for possible causes and remedies from anyone who has dealt with the same symptoms. The responses were interesting, sometimes comical and definitely all over the board.
Here are some examples:
This last one finally made the most sense to me so I did some more digging. Sure enough, articles on exertional (or exercise) headaches popped up all over. Apparently, just like exercise induced asthma, exercise induced headaches are not all that uncommon, and can occur after any sustained, strenuous exercise… even sex! And don’t get any ideas for excuses ladies, we’re not buying it.
Seriously though, doctors divide exercise headaches into two categories. Primary exercise headaches are usually harmless because they are not connected to any underlying problems. Secondary exercise headaches however, are caused by some underlying and often serious problem with the brain, such as bleeding or a tumor. So how do you know which variety you have? Let’s look at the distinguishing factors involved.
Signs and Symptoms
Primary: are usually described as throbbing headaches, occur during or after strenuous exercise, and affect both sides of the head in most cases. They usually last from 5 minutes to 48 hours.
Secondary: all of the above and may include nausea, vomiting, double vision, and neck rigidity. They last at least a day and sometimes linger for several days or longer.
Primary: the exact cause is unknown. One theory is that strenuous exercise dilates blood vessels inside the skull.
Secondary: are caused by an underlying problem such as – hemorrhaging within the membranes covering the brain, tumors, reduced blood flow in the arteries feeding the heart, or even a sinus infection.
Exercise headaches are more likely to occur while you are exercising in hot weather or at high altitude. A personal or family history of migraines increases the likelihood as well.
Primary: occur most often in young men in their 20s.
Secondary: tend to be a little older, average age of 42, and of either sex.
If you experience a headache during or after exercise, consult your doctor – especially if it’s your first headache of this type! Err on the side of caution. You do not want to mess around with anything related to your brain!
Screening and Diagnosis
A magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or magnetic resonance angiography (MRA) exam can help your doctor verify that you have the harmless variety of exercise headache.
If your headaches are predictable and there are no underlying structural or vascular problems causing them, your doctor may prescribe a medication to take an hour or two before a scheduled event.
If your headaches are frequent or unpredictable, you may be told to take the preventative medicine every day. The most common medication used is Indomethacin, an anti-inflammatory drug. Propranolol, a blood pressure medication, also is used preventatively.
Some other non-doctor prescribed medication suggestions include:
My thoughts, Kate: It sounds like you have the Primary variety and hopefully these simple suggestions will do the trick. But regardless of that, consult a doctor immediately if you haven’t already. Your health is nothing to play around with, and it’s better to be informed than ignorant!
Some of the information for this response was obtained from an article on www.mayoclinic.com/health.
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