Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Heads Up on Delayed Onset Headache

Happy Birthday.

Your head is killing you. You puke... nothing. You are out of synch with yourself. You are tired. You just wanna go back to sleep. Good luck with that. Every sound or flash of light just pounds on you. And you get real dizzy when you close your eyes.

You are hung over.

So what happened? You remember the folks yelling at you. You remember blowing out the candles on a cake. You remember the ice cream. You remember the two big pieces of cake. You remember that you got thirsty, so you drank...a sweetened ice tea, you think. Wait, you had a birthday celebration last night. But no booze?

How did that happen? How did you manage to get a HUMONGOUS ‘just-wanna-die’ hangover without drinking yourself under a table?

When you drink an alky drink, your body turns the ethanol (alcohol) into acetic acid. Through the breakdown of glucose, aka glycolysis, acetic acid produces acetyl CoA which reduces your blood sugar level. When your blood sugar level goes down enough you can get a headache, you can feel like puking, you can feel like crap [From crapulent, sick from gluttony, from Late Latin crapulentus, very drunk, from Latin crapula, intoxication, from Greek kraipale]

When you eat or drink sugar, your body breaks down the sugar to make glucose which breaks down into carbon dioxide and water; and energy is released. Once that energy is released, your blood sugar goes down. If you eat too much sugar, you can increase your blood sugar level way up, and when the level crashes you can get sick from gluttony and feel like crap.

You got this delayed onset headache syndrome from the sugar in the cake, and in the ice cream, and in the ice tea.

Bear in mind that your results from blood sugar changes may vary from those of other folks. Some folks can drink huge amounts of alcohol and not experience a delayed onset headache. Other folks can get sick right away from drinking. And there are other folks in between. The same considerations apply with sugar consumption.

The pain associated with a hangover is a result of your body's effort to cope with the systemic overload of sugar or ethanol.

If you are diabetic, you get to manage your blood sugar level. If you are not diabetic, you get to reduce or retime your consumption of sugar or ethanol. Or, you can continue to consume at your current level and live with the pain.

So, you can get a hangover from too much sugar or alcohol. Alcohol and sugar use can lead to blood sugar level decline; such decline can lead to delayed onset headaches.


Update from Dr Raeburn Forbes MD(Hons) FRCP Ed FRCP Lond
Consultant Neurologist

Dear Doc
Thanks for your enquiry to http://www.severe-headache-expert.com. I am sorry that it has taken me so long to respond, but the amount of interest has been impressive and I still feel I should respond to everyone in person.
Before I go any further, please remember that this information should be shared with your own doctor, as it is not a substitute for proper medical care.
I suspect that the most likely reason for someone having headaches associated by large intakes of sugars is migraine.  Many people with migraine experience cravings for foods (often carbs) in the hours before a migraine develops.  This then makes them think (quite reasonably) that there symptoms are secondary to the sugary food.  In fact the ingestion of this sugary food is simply an indication that a migraine is due.
Would you please discuss this possibility with your own doctor?  If this is migraine then some simple measures such as regular, quality sleep, eating healthy food regularly (enough to avoid feeling really hungry), keeping hydrated, minimising stress, keeping a healthy weight and regular gentle exercise may be all that you need to do.  There are also many effective treatments for the pain of migraine and also severeal preventative treatments - but these all work best when you try to look after yourself physically and mentally to the best of your abilities.

Regarding hangover headaches - avoiding alcohol is the only proven measure, but there are others - search hangover treatments on the website.