You have a headache or migraine and, to top it off, you feel like your head is spinning. Having a headache or feeling dizzy can be unsettling on its own, and together they’re even more perplexing. Examining the source of your dizziness can help you and your doctor find relief for your symptoms.
The first challenge is to accurately describe your dizziness. The challenge with dizziness is that it “can mean different things to different people,” says headache expert Peter Goadsby, MD, director of the Headache Center at the University of California, San Francisco. “For example, you may be feeling lightheadedness — like you’re going to pass out — or you may feel a sense of movement, like you might be spinning or the world might be spinning.” The spinning sensation is properly described as vertigo.
Before you talk to your doctor about dizziness, think about the best way to describe what you’re experiencing. Make note of when your dizziness feels worst, such as when you get up suddenly from sitting or lying positions, and what helps it subside. Your doctor will also want to know about other health conditions you may have, such as diabetes or pregnancy, which can trigger these symptoms. Low blood pressure is another possible cause of dizziness or lightheadedness.
Because there are so many ways to describe the sensation of dizziness — and so many potential causes — you and your doctor may need to spend some time discussing your health to get to the root of the problem.
There are a number of possible links between headaches and dizziness:
Migraines. Migraines are a common cause of headache pain and disability. They also can be associated with at least one form of dizziness. “A sense of instability can be found in migraine,” says Goadsby. “There is considerable discussion as to how that is related to migraine. You also can get that symptom from the dysfunction of the balance organs in the ear and from how that information is processed in the brain.” You may also feel lightheaded at times or experience the spinning sensation of vertigo. These sensations may be accompanied by ear or hearing disturbances. Dizziness, especially if accompanied by migraine symptoms such as visual disturbances and nausea — but without the headache pain — can be a sign that you’re experiencing headache-free migraines.
Traumatic brain injury. People who have had a traumatic brain injury (TBI) because of a fall, blow to the head, or other event may experience dizziness — often a kind of vertigo that occurs when the head is in a specific position — along with headache. Fatigue may also accompany these types of headaches. The headaches people tend to experience after TBI vary from tension-type headaches to migraines, or a mix of the two.
Low blood sugar. Another possible cause of both headaches and dizziness is low blood sugar. This is most likely to occur several hours after your last meal. Eating small, frequent meals should help stave off these symptoms. If you are diabetic, be sure to monitor your blood sugar levels throughout the day. Low blood sugar, also called hypoglycemia, is usually accompanied by other symptoms such as hunger, sweating, and trembling.
Treating Dizziness and Headache
Generally, the headache treatments that ease headache pain will also help ease dizziness, says Goadsby. Treatments may include:
Over-the-counter pain medications
Prescription migraine treatment
Medication to prevent migraine or headache
Maintaining a healthy, regular diet
If your dizziness or vertigo is related to an underlying health condition, you may need other treatments. Occasionally, dizziness may be a sign of a more serious medical condition, so you should always have your symptoms evaluated by a doctor.
Dizziness is a puzzling symptom. More disconcerting than painful, it may be just one more element of a headache or migraine, and proper treatment will help bring you the relief you seek.