Myvision.org Home

Can Headaches Make You Dizzy?

Headaches are one of the most common medical conditions we can experience. They can occur for a number of reasons, and treatments are not all the same. Some types of headaches are serious and require immediate medical attention, including ones that are combined with dizziness.

Can Headaches Make You Dizzy?

About 50 percent of adults experience headaches at one point or another. But not all headaches are the same. And some are more serious than others, including those that occur at the same time as dizziness. When they happen at the same time, the conditions usually are:

  • Migraines: These are severe headaches where one part of the head experiences throbbing, debilitating pain. Vestibular migraine relates to the ear and causes dizziness, especially in young kids.
  • Head trauma: Blunt force head trauma can cause a concussion or even a traumatic brain injury. If it affects the peripheral vestibular and central nervous system, it can give you a headache and make you dizzy.
  • Hypoglycemia: Your brain depends on glucose to remain active, and when the sugar levels drop, it impairs its function leading to dizziness and headaches.
headaches dizzy

How to Tell if a Headache Is Causing You Dizziness

To know if your headache is causing dizziness, you will display some of the following symptoms:

  • Nausea and vomiting 
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Confusion
  • Losing consciousness for a short while
  • Fatigue

Causes

More often than not, headaches will result from any stimuli that activate the pain receptors in your head and neck, such as:

  • Stress: Causes muscle tightening in the neck and head region resulting in a tension headache.
  • Infection: Bacterial and viral infections of the nose, ear and throat can result in headaches. 
  • Lifestyle factors: Not drinking enough water and eating copious amounts of red meat and canned foods, plus not getting enough sleep can trigger headaches.
  • Medications: Some drugs, such as oral contraceptives (birth control pills), can cause headaches.
  • Eye problems: Some eye conditions can strain the muscles in your head, giving you headaches. Some diseases such as glaucoma can cause increased eye pressure leading to headaches.

Diagnosis

A headache diagnosis is essential for detecting the presence of underlying conditions. Doctors first will take a medical history, asking about your past headaches and how often they occur. They will take your drug history and ask about present illnesses.

The physical examination will involve temperature readings and inspecting your head for signs of injury such as swelling. Physicians will also take your blood pressure and evaluate your balance, looking for signs and symptoms of underlying conditions.

Doctors sometimes will engage neurological tests to rule out disorders such as epilepsy and meningitis. In cases of secondary headaches, an advanced form of medical equipment can diagnose them:

  • Bloods test (ESR)
  • CT scan
  • MRI scan
  • Spinal tap to look for any bleeding in the brain

Treatment

Not all headaches are the same, which means not all treatment methods for headaches are the same. Doctors take different approaches for migraines vs. tension headaches vs. hypnic headaches.

Migraine Treatment

Effective treatment for migraines includes:

  • Medications, such as triptan drugs and pain relievers
  • Ice compress 
  • Plenty of rest

Tension Headache Treatment

To tame it:

  • Get enough sleep 
  • Relaxation therapy
  • Injection of local anesthetic in the trigger points

Hypnic Headache Treatment

It is a rare form of headache that is common among the elderly when sleeping. Treatment includes caffeine and medical drugs such as lithium and Indomethacin.

Dizziness vs. Lightheaded vs. Vertigo

It is common to use vertigo and dizziness interchangeably, but they are different sensations. Dizziness is the general term describing any feelings of disorientation. 

Vertigo is a secondary form of dizziness where you feel like the environment around you is spinning. When there’s a disconnect between the systems responsible for balance, leading to distortion in your normal gravitational orientation. 

Lightheadedness is a feeling of wooziness and wanting to faint. It occurs because of dehydration, drug side effects, and low blood sugar levels.

When to See a Doctor

In most cases, you don’t need to see a doctor when you have a headache. However, you will need to see the doctor if you or a loved one experience the following:

  • Stiff neck that accompanies the headache
  • Recurring headaches, especially in children
  • Having a headache after getting a head injury
  • Shortness of breath when having a headache

In these cases, get to an urgent-care facility as soon as possible. The sooner you can get treatment, the sooner you can get relief.

References

  1. Headache disorders: How common are headaches? (February 2014). World Health Organization.

  2. Vestibular Migraine. Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

  3. Hypoglycemia. (June 2019). Harvard Medical School.

  4. Migraine and its relationship with dietary habits in women. (February 2012). Iranian Journal of Nursing and Midwifery Research.

  5. NUTRITION AND LIFESTYLE CHANGES TO IMPROVE YOUR HEADACHES. (June 2021). The Utah University of Health.

  6. Headache induced by the use of combined oral contraceptives. (May 2009). Neurological Science.

  7. What Is a Headache? (September 2021). American Academy of Ophthalmology.

  8. Headache: Hope Through Research. (April 2022). National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.

  9. Headache Treatment and Headache Relief. Stanford Health Care.

  10. Four ways to tame tension headaches. (April 2020). Harvard Medical School.

  11. Hypnic Headache. (January 2022). StatPearls.

  12. Diagnosing Headaches. Stanford Health Care.

  13. Headaches. (June 2020). Cleveland Clinic.

  14. Dizziness and vertigo. (February 2012). Frontiers of Neurology and Neuroscience. 

  15. Lightheaded? Top 5 reasons you might feel woozy. (August 2020). Harvard Medical School.

  16. Persistent vertigo and dizziness after mild traumatic brain injury. (February 2015). Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences.

Last Updated July 1, 2022

Note: This page should not serve as a substitute for professional medical advice from a doctor or specialist. Please review our about page for more information.