Expert Answers: Dealing with COPD and Morning Headaches
Morning headaches can be a painful problem when living with COPD. So, to help our community in dealing with this aspect of the condition, we asked our experts: What are some ways to deal with - and possibly prevent - morning headaches? Check out what they had to say in their answers below, and feel free to add your thoughts in the comments!
Managing and preventing COPD morning headaches
Response from Ann
Some people with COPD get of morning headaches and there can be many causes of these headaches, ranging from the body not being able to take in enough oxygen and remove carbon dioxide efficiently to the presence of environmental triggers in the bedroom and home.
People with COPD, especially moderate to severe COPD, may not be able to process oxygen and carbon dioxide efficiently and this can become more pronounced during sleep. Some people benefit from nighttime or nocturnal oxygen therapy which means using oxygen only at night during sleep. Nocturnal oxygen therapy helps the body maintain healthy oxygen levels overnight. This therapy requires a prescription from a physician/provider and the individual must meet certain criteria.
Sleep apnea can play a role. Some people may have sleep apnea as well as COPD and not know it. Sometimes treating the underlying sleep apnea results in an improvement in morning headache symptoms and occurrences. Treatment of sleep apnea involves the use of CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) therapy. This therapy uses a small machine that delivers air through a tube into a mask that is worn over your mouth and nose during sleep. A sleep study is usually performed in a lab to assess if you have sleep apnea and your physician/provider must prescribe the study.
Getting regular exercise helps you to sleep better and feel more rested in the morning and managing your sleeping environment by keeping environmental triggers out of the bedroom (pets, smoke, dust) are two other things that can help to prevent morning headaches.
As always, have a discussion with your physician/healthcare provider about what you are experiencing. Keep a journal about your symptoms, is there a pattern? When do the headaches occur most often? How long do they last? What do they feel like? Providing detail and information helps your provider hone in on the issue and makes you a part of the team!
Response from Leon
Headaches can be a common symptom for patients who have been diagnosed with COPD. The cause is generally related to decreased oxygen (O2) and increased carbon dioxide (CO2) levels in the blood stream which, for COPD'ers is due to air trapping (not being able to exhale completely with each breath), especially during sleep. Decreased O2 and increased CO2 in the blood vessels going to the brain causes the blood vessels to dilate, which results in a throbbing headache in the morning. Good air flow is crucial for people who have COPD, particularly if chronic headaches occur. There are multiple ways to combat poor or improper airflow:
Quitting smoking: if you suffer from COPD and continue to smoke, it is unlikely that your symptoms will ever improve. Some physicians will not even treat a COPD patient who insists on smoking.
- Bronchodilators: physician prescribed medications, such as bronchodilators, can help counteract some of the most debilitating symptoms of COPD. These medications can result in improved airflow, improved levels of oxygen and less CO2 in the blood.
- Pillow: opening up the airways can be assisted by something as simple as the right pillow. Making certain that your head is properly elevated while sleeping can prevent your airways from tightening up and restricting airflow. A firm pillow can serve this purpose.
- Exercise: aerobic exercises can help improve lung strength and efficiency. Performing exercise to work out your heart and lungs will increase their productivity when you rest, which will improve oxygenation at night. (Speak with your doctor before starting a new exercise routine.)
Morning headaches related to COPD can be troublesome, but fortunately, they can be treated, managed and prevented for many people. Adhering to some of the guidelines mentioned above can greatly reduce the occurrence of COPD headaches.
Response from Lyn
There’s no question that this particular symptom of COPD can range from mildly annoying to downright debilitating. The good news is, there are ways to deal with them, and for some people it may eliminate them altogether.
First, if you’re still smoking, now is the time to stop. The added stress on your lungs and their ability to carry oxygen and get rid of carbon dioxide is seriously hindered by smoking. The added carbon dioxide in the blood causes the vessels in your head to dilate in an attempt to pick up more oxygen – resulting in the headache. Another thing is exercise. However limited, whatever exercise you can tolerate will be helpful in reducing morning headaches. Any improvement in the exchange of gases in the lungs will lessen the severity of the headache – and a cardiovascular workout (even slight) is an excellent way to accomplish that.
For all you coffee drinkers – listen up! Caffeine can actually treat a headache. So, you may find your first cup of Joe is more than just a morning pick-me-up, but may indeed relieve the pounding in your head. That being said, most doctors will tell you not to rely on coffee as the fix for morning headaches.
Do you live with any sleep disorders (eg. insomnia, RLS, sleep apnea) in addition to COPD?