Updated 24 June 2016

How to handle Ramadan headaches

Ramadan is a sacred, spiritual time for Muslims around the world but fasting can cause headaches. This is how you can prevent and manage headaches during this holy month.

Ramadan is a sacred time for Muslims worldwide. During this one-month period Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset.

Studies have shown that the religious practice of fasting (abstaining from eating, drinking or smoking) can often lead to mild or moderate headaches. Fortunately for those that get headaches during Ramadan, there are some ways to help prevent headaches during Ramadan.

Research shows that Ramadan headache onset often occurs in the afternoon or evening just before the fast is broken. Headache frequency typically increases over the duration of fasting. Those prone to headaches at other times of the year are most likely to get a headache when fasting, but some patients who experience headaches during this time often have no previous history of headaches or migraines.

Dr. Elliot Shevel, South Africa’s migraine surgery pioneer and the medical director of The Headache Clinic, says headaches during fasting can occur as a result of a few factors such as low blood sugar, increased stress, and caffeine withdrawal.

The good news is that you can manage these headaches without breaking your fast.

1. Caffeine withdrawal

Caffeine withdrawal is a common cause of headache while fasting. “Patients can often prevent headaches by reducing caffeine consumption in the weeks leading up to their fast,” says Shevel. A cup of strong coffee just before the start of the fast each day may also prevent caffeine withdrawal headache.

2. Hypoglycaemia

Hypoglycaemia (low blood sugar) can also trigger headaches in many people. If a meal with high sugar content is taken before the fast begins, it can cause a rapid rise in blood sugar levels, followed by a fast drop that may trigger a headache, explains Shevel.

“Eating a meal with low sugar content before the fast may prevent the onset of a headache during the day.” Contact The Headache Clinic for a list of foods which have a low glycaemic index.

3. Dehydration

Dehydration is another common trigger and adequate intake of fluid before the onset of the fast can often prevent headaches.

“The human brain consists mostly of water, and it is very sensitive to the amount of water available to it. When the brain detects that the water supply is too low, it begins to produce histamines,” explains Shevel.

This is essentially a process of water rationing and conservation, in order to safeguard the brain in case the water shortage continues for a long period of time. The histamines directly cause pain and fatigue, in other words a headache and the low energy that usually accompanies it. Make sure to drink large amounts of water before starting your fast and when you end it.

Avoid triggers

“Patients should also, as far as possible, try to avoid exposure to other triggers such as stress, fatigue and lack of sleep during their fast, when there is a greater tendency to experience headache,” says Shevel. “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 headaches are interfering with your fast, contact The Headache Clinic as we have a number of techniques to relieve you of your pain. This will allow you to continue your fast without having your focus be overtaken by persistent headaches. If headaches persist after the fast or are severe in nature, patients are advised to seek help from a medical professional. Shevel explains that headaches can be most successfully treated using a multidisciplinary approach, since no one medical specialization covers all the psychological and physical dimensions of severe headaches.

Read more:

Does fasting during Ramadan affect athletic performance?

How to handle headaches during the holidays

Exercising during Ramadan


Read Health24’s Comments Policy

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.

Ask the Expert

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.

Still have a question?

Get free advice from our panel of experts

The information provided does not constitute a diagnosis of your condition. You should consult a medical practitioner or other appropriate health care professional for a physical exmanication, diagnosis and formal advice. Health24 and the expert accept no responsibility or liability for any damage or personal harm you may suffer resulting from making use of this content.

* You must accept our condition

Forum Rules