Updated 22 May 2018

How to handle Ramadan headaches

Fasting can often lead to mild or moderate headaches but there are ways to manage this – Dr Elliot Shevel shares three ways to manage your headache without breaking your fast.

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


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Headache expert

Dr Elliot Shevel is a South African migraine surgery pioneer and the founder and medical director of The Headache Clinic in Johannesburg, Durban and Cape Town, South Africa. The Headache Clinic is a multidisciplinary practice dedicated to the diagnosis and treatment of Primary Headaches and Migraines. Dr Shevel is also the main author of all scientific publications generated by his team. He recently won a high level science debate in which he was able to prove that the current migraine diagnosis and classification is not based on data. Tertiary Education - Dr Shevel holds both Dental and Medical degrees, and practises as a specialist Maxillo-facial and Oral Surgeon. Follow the Headache Clinic on Twitter@HeadacheClinic.

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