Ramadan is a sacred time for Muslims worldwide. During this one-month period Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset.
Studies have shown that the religious practice of fasting (abstaining from eating, drinking or smoking) can often lead to mild or moderate headaches. Fortunately for those that get headaches during Ramadan, there are some ways to help prevent headaches during Ramadan.
Research shows that Ramadan headache onset often occurs in the afternoon or evening just before the fast is broken. Headache frequency typically increases over the duration of fasting. Those prone to headaches at other times of the year are most likely to get a headache when fasting, but some patients who experience headaches during this time often have no previous history of headaches or migraines.
Dr. Elliot Shevel, South Africa’s migraine surgery pioneer and the medical director of The Headache Clinic, says headaches during fasting can occur as a result of a few factors such as low blood sugar, increased stress, and caffeine withdrawal.
The good news is that you can manage these headaches without breaking your fast.
1. Caffeine withdrawal
Caffeine withdrawal is a common cause of headache while fasting. “Patients can often prevent headaches by reducing caffeine consumption in the weeks leading up to their fast,” says Shevel. A cup of strong coffee just before the start of the fast each day may also prevent caffeine withdrawal headache.
Hypoglycaemia (low blood sugar) can also trigger headaches in many people. If a meal with high sugar content is taken before the fast begins, it can cause a rapid rise in blood sugar levels, followed by a fast drop that may trigger a headache, explains Shevel.
“Eating a meal with low sugar content before the fast may prevent the onset of a headache during the day.” Contact The Headache Clinic for a list of foods which have a low glycaemic index.
Dehydration is another common trigger and adequate intake of fluid before the onset of the fast can often prevent headaches.
“The human brain consists mostly of water, and it is very sensitive to the amount of water available to it. When the brain detects that the water supply is too low, it begins to produce histamines,” explains Shevel.
This is essentially a process of water rationing and conservation, in order to safeguard the brain in case the water shortage continues for a long period of time. The histamines directly cause pain and fatigue, in other words a headache and the low energy that usually accompanies it. Make sure to drink large amounts of water before starting your fast and when you end it.
“Patients should also, as far as possible, try to avoid exposure to other triggers such as stress, fatigue and lack of sleep during their fast, when there is a greater tendency to experience headache,” says Shevel. “Rest and sleep often help prevent being subjected to headaches and the pain often melts away when the fast is broken.”
When to call your doctor
If headaches are interfering with your fast, contact The Headache Clinic as they have a number of techniques to relieve you of your pain. This will allow you to continue your fast without having your focus be overtaken by persistent headaches. If headaches persist after the fast or are severe in nature, patients are advised to seek help from a medical professional. Shevel explains that headaches can be most successfully treated using a multidisciplinary approach, since no one medical specialization covers all the psychological and physical dimensions of severe headaches.