Why does lack of food cause head/neck pain?
June 2, 2014 2:13 AM   Subscribe

When I have gone too long without eating, I tend to get a neck-ache, often also accompanied by a headache localized at my temple. Why is this? What's going on, physiologically?

This even happens when I've been drinking plenty of water.

Why is the pain focused in my neck and head and not elsewhere? I'll feel hunger, and my tummy will rumble, but it doesn't hurt anywhere but in my neck and head.
posted by paleyellowwithorange to Health & Fitness (6 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
This is something you should probably ask your primary care physician.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 2:27 AM on June 2, 2014

Hunger headaches are a thing. Typically, they are caused by low blood sugar; the hormones your body releases to combat low blood glucose cause head and neck pain.
posted by DarlingBri at 2:35 AM on June 2, 2014 [8 favorites]

Best answer: Is it possible that the ache is not actually caused by the hunger, but is relieved by eating for other reasons? I was getting headaches that I thought were caused by hunger, because they went away as soon as I ate. But I eventually realised they were sinus headaches, and it was actually the chewing motion that relieves them (maybe because it changes pressure in the sinuses?). So even chewing gum or similar solves the problem. This probably isn't the same thing for you, but I thought I'd mention it just in case.
posted by lollusc at 3:49 AM on June 2, 2014

Agreeing with hunger headaches. But do you also drink any caffeine? Withdrawal from caffeine can cause headaches too, and it just might coincide with lunch or getting hungry because caffeine can burn through your energy/food. I also second talking to a doctor if this is happening consistently, as it could be a sign of serious blood sugar issues or vitamin/mineral deficiencies.
posted by Crystalinne at 6:56 AM on June 2, 2014 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Headaches (and I would imagine the neck pains are related to the headache, issues with quickly-changing blood flow in scalp or neck muscles) are a common symptom of low blood sugar. Sort of like inducing what happens to people who get migraines, is my understanding. A quick google suggests that headaches from fasting might have something to do with the actions of the hormone glucagon working to bring blood sugar back up by converting stored glycogen back into blood glucose (kind of the anti-insulin).

I don't think staying hydrated would do much to counteract low blood sugar symptoms in and of itself, but I guess it's good not to be dehydrated on top of having low blood sugar from fasting. If fasting headaches are happening during normal between-meal intervals of several hours -- rather than because of longer fasts -- it seems to me you should talk to your doctor because it might indicate hypoglycemic problems. If you're fasting for long periods and having adverse symptoms, you might want to reconsider doing that. Good luck!
posted by aught at 6:56 AM on June 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: What are you doing that you don't eat for extended periods? Are you busy working and don't get around to it for a while? I mean, are you hunched over your desk or laptop or sitting in one position for a long time? It could be something peripheral to the not-eating as lollusc says.
posted by Beti at 8:20 AM on June 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

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