Exercise Headache Causes and Symptoms

Exercise headache usually occurs during or after severe strenuous exercise, especially after doing strenuous exercise for long duration. Exercise headache is usually divided into primary exercise headache and secondary exercise headache. Primary exercise headache is mostly harmless and usually no underlying pathology can be identified and easy to manage with simple medications. However, secondary exercise headache is usually due to some serious underlying pathology in brain, such as bleeding inside brain or a tumor or it may be due to a cause outside brain such as coronary artery disease. Secondary exercise headache usually need to be managed on an emergency basis. Common activities that may lead to exercise headache (primary as well as secondary) include playing tennis, weightlifting, running, swimming etc.

What are the causes of exercise headache?

The causes of primary and secondary exercise headache are usually different. The causes of primary exercise headache is usually unknown and it is harmless condition. Some experts claim that primary exercise headache is due to dilatation of blood vessels inside brain leading to headache (same as migraine headache). However, there is no conclusive proof/evidence about this cause.

Secondary exercise headache may be due to:

  • Tumor (benign and malignant) inside brain
  • Bleeding inside brain and membrane that covers brain known as subarachnoid hemorrhage
  • Obstruction to CSF flow
  • Anatomical abnormality spine, head and neck
  • Abnormality in blood vessel inside brain

What are the symptoms of exercise headache?

Symptoms of primary exercise headache:

  • Headache usually is throbbing in nature as explained by patients of primary exercise headache
  • Throbbing headache usually during or immediately after strenuous physical exercise
  • Mostly bilateral in nature

Symptoms of secondary exercise headache:

Secondary exercise headache symptoms are usually just like primary exercise headache and additionally may have

  • Vomiting
  • Diplopia or double vision where patient see every object as double
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Neck rigidity etc.

Secondary exercise headache need to be treated promptly as emergency case and should be taken to hospital immediately or informed emergency medical service.

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