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Exertional Headaches
May 14, 2007 11:40 PM   Subscribe

Exertional Headaches: Experiences? More info?

I was doing bench presses the Friday before last with a spotter, and pushed a bit harder than I ever had, and suddenly got the worst headache of my life. Blurred vision, throbbing with each heartbeat, the works.

It dulled after a few minutes, and I was able to complete the rest of my workout at much lowered intensity.

That'd be fine, if it didn't come back the next time I lifted out anywhere near failure the following Sunday, and so I took a week break, started lifting again today, and it's still threatening to come back if I approach my failure point.

Going to a doctor tomorrow or the day after, but would like personal info and experiences on the matter.

posted by sdis to Health & Fitness (9 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Mine was secondary to a sinus infection.
posted by puddinghead at 11:52 PM on May 14, 2007

I had one that put me in the hospital, since I'd had a stroke previously. The headache came on like I'd been shot in the back of the head. I had some residual headaches for about three months after that.

That was two plus years ago, I've been fine since. It was scary, though.
posted by astruc at 12:23 AM on May 15, 2007

That you are slender and have flat feet, along with the particular features of this exertional headache, makes me think you may have very stretchy collagen, which would also manifest itself as unusual flexibility, and perhaps even double-jointedness.

If this is so, the collagen in the walls of your arteries is also quite stretchy, and I would guess you have caused one or both of your internal carotid arteries to swell up like little balloons from the increased pressure of exertion. These arteries run just behind your eyeballs, and when they balloon up they can impinge directly upon the retinas of your eyes, causing blurring and distortion and especially a pulsing of your vision with your heartbeat.

If you think this description fits you, I think you should quit lifting weights altogether for an extended period to let your arteries shrink back down and firm up as much as possible. Then proceed very cautiously.
posted by jamjam at 1:40 AM on May 15, 2007

I've had this happen to me a few time. I'm not so sure on the causes, but improper breathing during lifting is most often cited. It'll probably recur during exercise for a few weeks and won't go away until you really take it easy. The three or four times it's happened to me, I've just completely taken off two or three weeks because the pain was unbearable. I eased back into working out and then I was fine.

This site seems to have a really good explanation of exercise-related headaches. Scroll down to the section on exertion headaches. Like the site says, it's speculated that they're vascular. One possibility, I think, is that pre-existing high blood pressure can cause them. So possible long-term remedies could be to lose weight, eat a healthy diet, and don't overtrain.
posted by Durin's Bane at 5:37 AM on May 15, 2007

I've just had the same thing - first onset was also doing BP. Basically the "muscle/tissue" that continues up into the good old cranium has been bruised and inflamed (IANAD and was struggling to pay attention because of the headaches so I probably mis-understood).
Anti-inflamatories eventually worked after a few days. I was told to watch my breathing while pushing heavy weight.
posted by Umhlangan at 6:14 AM on May 15, 2007

I had a very similar thing, brought on by the wracking coughs associated with a bad case of bronchitis last winter. Every time I coughed, it felt like my head was going to explode, and then I started having the same thing every time I bent over, and every time I lifted weight -- all things that increase intracranial pressure.

The good news is that, after several months of affliction, I find this to be slowly ebbing away. But I'm very glad you're getting it checked out, because (as you probably know from checking websites) "the worst headache of your life" is a *definite* red flag for some very dangerous possibilities (e.g., brain aneurysm).

Good luck!
posted by Kat Allison at 6:36 AM on May 15, 2007

I began to get exertion headaches when I added weightlifting to a running program.

I went to the doctor, who suspecting an issue with blood pressure had me wear a ambulatory blood pressure monitor for a day. When my blood pressure came back normal, he appeared to be at a bit of a loss.

He suggested either dropping the weightlifting or predosing with Aleve before the workout. I tried the Aleve route, I tried lifting with friends watching me to make sure that my breathing was OK, I tried dropping "heavy" excersies like squats and deadlifts, but nothing helped. So I ended up dropping the weightlifting. The pain as you know is so severe that it just wasn't worth pursuing a cure.

Good luck and I hope you have more success than I did.
posted by fellion at 7:32 AM on May 15, 2007

Here's another data point for you. After a weightlifting session I did a quick finisher consisting of 21-15-9 ball slams and box jumps. I completed it in some crazy time like 1.5 minutes and was, as usual, really wrecked afterwards. What was different on this occasion was a lack of recovery, semi-blurred vision, and a unilateral headache. SCARY!

Things got much better overnight, but the headache instantly returned when I had my morning french press of 24oz of coffee, likely because of the caffeine.

I decided to stop the caffeine (a big step!) while the issue cleared up. The headache eventually went away, and despite feeling fog-headed and drunk for two days, I stayed off of the caffeine (which has really done wonders). Now I'm a decaf dork!

I've subsequently put forth similarly intense efforts with no issues.
posted by ArcAm at 8:43 AM on May 15, 2007

Though it's more likely to be an exertional headache, the story's also consistent with aneurysmal rupture. You should consider this an emergency to be evaluated by a doctor and ruled out immediately; if you do have a ruptured aneurysm, you are at risk of dropping dead.
posted by ikkyu2 at 10:38 AM on May 15, 2007

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