Baylor College of Medicine

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Headaches and the heat - what really is causing the pain?

Graciela Gutierrez


Houston, TX -

While the summer heat may be a pain, does it actually cause headaches? A Baylor College of Medicine expert says headaches that seem to be caused by the heat may really be due to dehydration.

When the body becomes dehydrated it is believed to trigger a headache due to narrowing blood vessels as the body loses water and electrolytes. When a person is dehydrated, they are more likely to suffer from heat stroke, and a headache is sometimes a symptom of that, among other telling signs such as high body temperature, nausea and rapid breathing and heartbeat.

“If you are already prone to headaches, such as migraines, this could be a trigger,” said Dr. Doris Kung, associate professor of neurology at Baylor. “One way to try to prevent this type of headache is by drinking plenty of water when you are spending the day outside and taking a break from activity.”

However, Kung said headaches shouldn’t be ignored. If they are frequent, you should see a neurologist, and if they are accompanied by neurological symptoms like weakness, numbness, slurred speech or altered mental activity you should head to the emergency room.

“These could be the sign of a larger problem,” Kung said. “You should also see a doctor if you suddenly start to suffer from headaches when you normally didn’t or begin to suffer from a different type of headache than what is normal for you.”

While over-the-counter headache medications can help for the average headache, if taken too often, it could cause more pain.

“You can develop a condition called rebound headaches when taking too much over-the-counter medicine. Use of OTC pain relievers 15 or more days out of the month can result in more headaches,” Kung said.

If someone is interested in eliminating OTC pain killers to manage headaches, it is important to identify triggers first, and then work on avoiding them. Some simple steps shown to help lessen certain types of headaches include staying hydrated, sleeping regularly, eating regular healthy meals and exercising. If headaches continue to be bothersome, contact your doctor or neurologist for further evaluation and treatment.

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