How to handle Ramadan headaches

Don't let headaches affect your fasting.
Don't let headaches affect your fasting.

Headaches while fasting usually occur due to low blood sugar, increased stressed and caffeine withdrawal. “The good news is that you can manage these headaches without breaking your fast,” says Dr Elliot Shevel, medical director of the Headache Clinic and Health24’s headache expert. He shares three simple ways to manage headaches during a fast. 

1. Caffeine withdrawal

This is a common issue if you are used to drinking numerous cups of coffee every day. “Patients can often prevent headaches by reducing caffeine consumption in the weeks leading up to their fast,” says Dr Shevel.

However, considering Ramadan has already started, Dr Shevel suggests having a cup of strong coffee just before you start your fast each day, which will help prevent a caffeine-withdrawal headache.

2. Hypoglycaemia

Low blood sugar (or hypoglycaemia) is a common trigger for headaches. If you eat a meal with a high sugar content before you begin fasting, you could cause a rapid rise in blood sugar levels – this will be followed by a quick drop that could trigger a headache. “Eating a meal with a low sugar content before the fast may prevent the onset of a headache during the day,” says Dr Shevel. 

GI ranks carbs according to how they affect our blood sugar levels – low GI carbs produce only a small change in your blood glucose and insulin levels. The lower the GI, the less your levels will fluctuate. Foods with a low GI index include, low-fat fruit yoghurt, apple juice, grape fruit, pearl barley, red lentils and raw oatbran. 

3. Dehydration

“The human brain consists mostly of water and it is very sensitive to the amount of water available to it,” says Dr Shevel. “When the brain detects that the water supply is too low, it begins to produce histamines.” This means that your body begins a process of water rationing and conservation to protect your brain in case the water shortage continues for a long time. The histamines directly cause pain and fatigue – cue a headache and low energy. Dr Shevel advises drinking large amounts of water before you begin fasting and again when you end it.

Dr Shevel says that you should, as far as possible, avoid being exposed to other triggers, such as stress, fatigue and lack of sleep, during your fast especially if you are prone to headaches. “Rest and sleep often help prevent being subjected to headaches and the pain often melts away when the fast is broken.”

When to call your doctor

If you find that your headaches are interfering with your fast, you should speak to your doctor to find ways of relieving the pain. The Headache Clinic offers a number of techniques that help. If your headaches persist after the fast or are severe, you must speak to a doctor.

Image credit: iStock

We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
In times of uncertainty you need journalism you can trust. For 14 free days, you can have access to a world of in-depth analyses, investigative journalism, top opinions and a range of features. Journalism strengthens democracy. Invest in the future today. Thereafter you will be billed R75 per month. You can cancel anytime and if you cancel within 14 days you won't be billed. 
Subscribe to News24
Voting Booth
The ANC's leadership race is heating up. Who do you think will be elected party president at Nasrec in December?
Please select an option Oops! Something went wrong, please try again later.
Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma has got it in the bag
7% - 829 votes
I foresee a second term for Cyril Ramaphosa
83% - 9542 votes
Don’t discount a Zweli Mkhize win
10% - 1115 votes
Rand - Dollar
Rand - Pound
Rand - Euro
Rand - Aus dollar
Rand - Yen
Brent Crude
Top 40
All Share
Resource 10
Industrial 25
Financial 15
All JSE data delayed by at least 15 minutes Iress logo
Editorial feedback and complaints

Contact the public editor with feedback for our journalists, complaints, queries or suggestions about articles on News24.