Why Are Morning Headaches Common With COPD?

Headaches can be caused by many different factors, including chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). 

Headaches are typically classified by cause. Primary headaches are caused by over activity of or problems with pain-sensitive structures in your head.

Primary headaches aren’t the symptom of an underlying disease. The chemical activity in your brain, the nerves or blood vessels surrounding your skull, the muscles of your head and neck or a combination of these factors can play a role in primary headaches. 

Morning headaches with COPD are considered secondary headaches, which mean that the headaches are a symptom of having COPD.

Morning Headaches Start While You Sleep 

Morning headaches are a common symptom for people with COPD. The headache is typically described as dull and throbbing and is caused by a build-up of carbon dioxide in the blood stream.

Because COPD causes inflammation in the respiratory system, your lungs have difficulty breathing in enough oxygen and exhaling carbon dioxide. Many people with lung disease also have issues with receiving enough oxygen while sleeping.

When blood that has too much carbon dioxide reaches the brain, it causes the blood vessels to open wider in an attempt to absorb more oxygen from the blood.

The result is a throbbing headache first thing in the morning.

Preventing Morning Headaches with COPD 

Air flow is crucial to someone with COPD, particularly if chronic headaches occur. There are multiple ways to combat improper airflow and manage morning headaches with COPD:

  • Quit Smoking – If you have COPD and continue to smoke, your symptoms will likely never improve.
  • Bronchodilators – This prescribed medication is designed relax the bronchial muscles. Bronchodilators can help counteract some of the most debilitating symptoms of COPD. The result should be better functioning lungs and more oxygen in the bloodstream.
  • Good Pillows – Opening your airways while you sleep can be as simple as having the right pillow. A plush, soft pillow might feel great, but if your head sinks down too far, the airways can tighten and restrict your breathing. Make sure your head is elevated properly when you sleep. This can typically be done by using a firmer pillow.
  • Diet –Eating certain foods can greatly reduce the likelihood of morning headaches with COPD. Almonds, cashews, brown rice and peas are a few items that can relax the blood vessels in the body, including in the brain where COPD headaches originate.
  • Exercise – Aerobic exercises can help improve lung strength and efficiency. Working out your lungs and heart will increase their productivity when you rest, which leads to your lungs taking in more oxygen while you sleep. Remember to talk with your doctor about an exercise plan that works best for you before starting or changing your current exercise regimen.
  • Monitor your Caffeine – Unfortunately, caffeine can both cause and treat headaches. If you consume caffeine regularly, then you may become caffeine dependent and any abrupt change in routine can cause additional headaches. However, if you are suffering from a headache, having some caffeine may help reduce length of the headache when combined in small doses with other pain relievers. Ask your doctor about how much caffeine is right for you.

Morning COPD headaches can be painful and annoying. Thankfully, they can be treated, managed and prevented in many cases. Paying close attention to your body through diet, exercise and sleeping habits can reduce the occurrence of COPD headaches.

If you’re experiencing morning headaches with COPD, talk with your doctor to develop the best treatment plan for you.