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COPD and Headaches

COPD & Headaches

If you have COPD, you probably expect to cough, feel short of breath or wheeze with some regularity. However, what you might not expect with COPD symptoms is to experience frequent headaches. COPD and headaches do, in fact, go hand in hand quite often, but it is important to understand why this is and what you should do if you experience COPD headaches

How to Tell If Your Headaches are COPD Headaches

Generally speaking, if you have COPD and headaches, your headaches are likely caused by your COPD. Morning headaches are a particularly common COPD symptom, and indicate that you may need some additional COPD treatment. Especially if you experience worsening shortness of breath and headache, this may be a sign of an oncoming COPD exacerbation, which will need to be treated right away. 

If you have not been diagnosed with COPD but experience wheezing, chest pain, shortness of breath and headache, COPD could be the cause. If you are experiencing both shortness of breath and headache, it is important that you see your doctor right away. Even if COPD is not the cause, the combination of shortness of breath and headache indicate that your body is not getting the oxygen it needs. As such, you should seek medical help to find out what is causing your shortness of breath and headache so that you can resolve the problem as soon as possible. 

If your COPD and headaches are connected, what is causing those COPD headaches? Let’s take a look. 

Why Do COPD Headaches Occur?

COPD affects your lungs’ ability to properly inhale and absorb oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide. The combination of a lack of oxygen and a buildup of carbon dioxide leads to a low oxygen headache or COPD headache resulting from too much carbon dioxide in your blood. Either way, the result is that your brain is not getting the oxygen it needs, causing swelling of the blood vessels, which in turn causes your lack of oxygen headache.[1]  If you have COPD, pay close attention to headaches, particularly if they take place upon waking in the morning, and talk to your doctor about when they occur and how frequently you experience a lack of oxygen headache. Your doctor will decide how to proceed from there.

Additionally, it is also possible for people with COPD and headaches to get too much oxygen, typically as a result of an oxygen therapy prescription that is a bit too high. If you are on oxygen therapy at night and wake up with a COPD headache, this could be the cause, so it is important to speak with your doctor if you have COPD and headaches while using oxygen therapy at night. 

Finally, if you have COPD and headaches were resolved for you, the reappearance of morning headaches could be an early warning sign of a COPD exacerbation. Often, people at the beginning of a COPD flare-up wake up in the morning with throbbing COPD headaches because of a buildup of carbon dioxide in their blood.[2] A low oxygen headache like this should be taken seriously and warrants a call to the doctor right away. 

What Should You Do If You Have COPD Headaches?

COPD headaches could be a sign that you have either hypercapnia, which is a buildup of carbon dioxide in your system, or hypoxia, which occurs when your blood contains insufficient oxygen and insufficient oxygen reaches your tissues.[3] Both of these conditions have serious health ramifications and can impact the function of your internal organs as well as the health of your entire body. Experiencing COPD and headaches can also be a sign of sleep apnea, which is not uncommon in people with COPD, but can also have serious consequences for your health. Because the causes of COPD headaches can be quite severe and the resulting consequences potentially life-altering, it is essential to take any lack of oxygen headache seriously.

If you are experiencing COPD and headaches, you should talk to your doctor right away. It is important for them to assess how serious your low oxygen headache could be, and to discover the precise cause in order to treat your COPD headaches properly. Even if the cause is not particularly serious and the worst of your lack of oxygen headache is pain, constant headaches can make going about your daily activities more difficult than they need to be. Living with COPD can be hard enough, so you should not have to live with COPD and headaches, too. 

COPD and Headaches: What Treatment Options Are Available?

When it comes to COPD and headaches, your treatment options will vary depending on the cause of your headaches. Your doctor will choose a treatment that helps treat both the cause and pain of your COPD headaches in order to resolve the headaches as best they can. Below are some of the treatment options your doctor may offer for your COPD and headaches

Medication
If you doctor opts to prescribe medication, this will most likely be to treat your COPD, which will, in turn, treat your COPD headaches. If you have COPD and headaches, you might be prescribed:[3]

  • Antibiotics for respiratory infections
  • Bronchodilators to relax your airways
  • Inhaled or oral steroids to reduce inflammation
  • Pain management medications (generally over-the-counter)

Pain Management Strategies

Pain management is not limited to medication. You can also use mindfulness strategies and other relaxation techniques to help relax and ease some of the pain. However, it is important to remember that the majority of the time, COPD headaches will need other treatment to remedy the cause of the carbon dioxide buildup, the excess oxygen or the insufficient oxygen. To help manage your pain as a result of COPD and headaches, try the following:[3]

  • Avoid exposure to anything that triggers COPD and headache symptoms for you, including pollution, cleaning chemicals, dust and smoke
  • Breathing exercises to improve your oxygen levels and calm your body
  • Drinking certain teas, like peppermint, ginger, clove and chamomile, can help[4][5] 
  • Get more sleep each night, but avoid sleeping in or sleeping off your headache
  • Get regular moderate exercise
  • Try mindfulness exercises like meditation

Oxygen Therapy

Oxygen therapy is one of the most common treatments for COPD and headaches because many COPD headaches are the result of insufficient oxygen or excess carbon dioxide buildup. Oxygen therapy helps to treat hypoxemia and hypoxia, and the resulting low oxygen headache, by increasing your oxygen intake and, therefore, your oxygen saturation. Your doctor may opt to begin oxygen therapy during the day or at night, depending on what testing indicates about your blood oxygen levels and oxygen saturation. If you are already on oxygen therapy, your dosage may need to be adjusted up or down, depending on whether your doctor decides you are receiving too much or not enough oxygen. Regardless, oxygen therapy can be profoundly effective at treating COPD and headaches

Inogen Can Help Treat Your COPD and Headaches

For COPD patients, oxygen therapy can provide profound relief from shortness of breath, coughing and other COPD symptoms. Patients experiencing COPD headaches are also excellent candidates for oxygen therapy, as these headaches indicate a lack of oxygen. If you have COPD and headaches, you should talk to your doctor about how oxygen therapy could benefit you. 

Inogen was founded to help improve the lives of people on oxygen therapy, and that includes helping to minimize the symptoms of COPD that can impact patients’ lives. While some people think, “It’s just a headache,” COPD headaches can impact your daily life and make it difficult to enjoy the things you want to do. Thankfully, oxygen therapy can change that, and Inogen can help.

Inogen oxygen concentrators were designed to improve patients’ oxygen intake, while minimizing the impact of oxygen therapy on their lives. Our products were created to not only improve your breathing and your oxygen levels, but also to improve your freedom, independence and mobility. With Inogen, your oxygen therapy makes your life better, rather than impeding it. Using an Inogen Oxygen Concentrator at night can help improve your COPD and headaches, thereby improving your overall quality of life. Beyond that, oxygen therapy can actually benefit your health in the long term. If you have COPD and headaches, find out how Inogen Oxygen Concentrators can help you treat your headaches and your COPD symptoms, without putting your life on hold. Contact us today for more information about our products and how they can help you. 

Oxygen. Anytime. Anywhere.

Sources:
[1] “Morning Headaches.” COPD.net, Health Union, LLC, 2 Apr. 2015, https://copd.net/symptoms/morning-headaches/

[2] Khatri, Minesh. “Signs of a COPD Exacerbation.” WebMD, WebMD, 14 Mar. 2019, www.webmd.com/lung/copd/10-signs-copd-exacerbation

[3] Cherney, Kristeen. “Managing COPD Headaches.” Healthline, Healthline Media, 5 Nov. 2018, www.healthline.com/health/copd/headache#how-copd-causes-headaches

[4] Osborn, Corinne O’Keefe. “Headache Tea: Best Herbal Teas for a Headache and Where to Find T.” Healthline, Healthline Media, 8 Mar. 2019, www.healthline.com/health/headache-tea

[5] Dumas, Paula. “Most Soothing Teas for Headache Relief.” Migraine Again, Migraine Again, 16 July 2020, www.migraineagain.com/most-soothing-teas-when-you-wake-with-a-headache/

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