January 29, 2024

Headache and Fatigue: 11 Possible Causes That Can Trigger Both

Many factors, like dehydration, a cold or even your medication, can result in these common symptoms

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Raise your hand if you’ve ever experienced a headache and fatigue together.

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While you may just be tired from staying up late or have a headache due to stress, there are many ways headache and fatigue are connected. And if you have constant headaches and fatigue every day, it may be time to talk to a doctor.

So, what may cause both headache and fatigue symptoms? The answer isn’t so simple.

Family medicine physician Neha Vyas, MD, says to think of these two symptoms as a Venn diagram. A headache can be caused by certain things, while fatigue may be due to other reasons. But when you put them together, there’s a whole other set of factors as to why you may be experiencing both.

She explains a few possible reasons you may have a headache and fatigue and when it’s time to see your doctor.

What might cause headache and fatigue?

A headache and fatigue are often a symptom of something else — and it can be hard to narrow down or pinpoint the exact cause.

“Headache and fatigue are two different symptoms,” says Dr. Vyas. “When you put them together, you think of certain body parts or organ systems which are involved.”

You may have migraines, a sleep disorder or be fending off an infection like the flu. While most reasons you have a headache and fatigue at the same time may be managed with lifestyle changes or medication, if those two symptoms start affecting your life, it’s time to seek help.

Dr. Vyas shares what may be the root of having a headache and fatigue at the same time, but stresses that there are many more possible reasons.

Cold, flu and COVID-19

Infectious diseases like the common cold, flu and COVID-19 all share the typical symptoms of headache and fatigue.

“Another type of infection may be pneumonia,” says Dr. Vyas. “And oftentimes, if there’s also a fever that would be a big clue as to whether there’s something infectious going on.”

You may also have other symptoms like a sore throat, cough and body aches — and there are subtle differences between the cold, flu and COVID-19.

Migraines

These frequent headaches can be intense in pain and come with a host of symptoms that start before your migraine and last after it subsides.

Many times, you may start to experience symptoms — like feeling tired — a few days before a migraine. And once the headache or migraine starts, you may also feel nauseated and dizzy and have sensitivity to light and sound, in addition to head pain.

And even after your migraine stops, you may feel fatigued.

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Dehydration

Are you drinking enough water? The answer may be no, especially if you’re getting headaches. You may also feel fatigued.

So, how much water should you be drinking? Men and people assigned male at birth (AMAB) should drink about 125 ounces a day, while women and people assigned female at birth (AFAB) should aim for about 91 ounces.

And if you’ve had a few alcoholic drinks, this can lead to a hangover, which is typically caused by dehydration and lack of sleep.

Medications

If you take diuretics or hypertension medication like beta-blockers, it may lead to side effects like headaches and fatigue.

Even certain antibiotics, antivirals and sedatives can cause these side effects. Anti-depressants and chemotherapy drugs may also give you a headache, as well as make you feel tired.

Fibromyalgia

Autoimmune diseases like fibromyalgia, a chronic health condition that causes musculoskeletal pain, often have frequent symptoms like headache and fatigue.

“The inflammation caused by fibromyalgia is long-lasting,” says Dr. Vyas. “It’s not something that comes on all of a sudden.”

If you have fibromyalgia, you tend to experience flare-ups where symptoms like headaches and fatigue are more intense.

Sleep disorders

If you’re not getting adequate sleep — anywhere between seven and nine hours a night — you may be familiar with the headache and fatigue that results from a restless night.

Common sleep disorders like insomnia, sleep apnea, restless legs syndrome and even grinding your teeth at night (a condition called bruxism) are known to cause a headache and fatigue.

Concussion

A blow to your head may result in a concussion, a mild traumatic brain injury. As you can imagine, this may lead to a headache, but it can also come with other symptoms like fatigue, vomiting and confusion.

If you think you have a concussion, it’s important that you receive medical attention right away.

Anemia

We all need oxygen, and if you have anemia, the amount of red blood cells you have is too low making it difficult for your body’s tissue to get enough oxygen.

This results in fatigue, weakness, dizziness, shortness of breath and a headache.

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Menstruation

During your menstrual cycle, your hormones fluctuate and that may lead to premenstrual syndrome (PMS).

Symptoms such as cramps, headaches, fatigue and bloating, show up after ovulation.

Pregnancy

Speaking of hormones, if you’re pregnant, your levels of progesterone rise, which can make you feel fatigued and tired.

But the hormone is helpful during the beginning stages of your pregnancy. Other hormonal changes can cause you to also have a headache, too.

Depression

If you have depression, it can take a toll on you both emotionally and physically. You can experience both a headache and fatigue due to lack of sleep from the mood disorder.

Other symptoms can include body aches, sadness and appetite changes.

When to see a doctor

Remember, there are a lot of possible reasons you may be having a headache along with feeling fatigued or tired. Dr. Vyas says focusing on sleep and watching your caffeine intake can help manage a headache and fatigue.

But if you constantly have a headache and deal with fatigue, it may be time to see a healthcare provider, especially if it gets worse or simply isn’t getting better.

They may ask about other symptoms like a fever or vomiting to guide them to the right diagnosis. They may also ask how long you’ve been experiencing headaches and fatigue. Has it been lasting for a few weeks? Do you just feel tired in the morning?

Based on your answers and medical history, your healthcare provider will determine what to do next.

“The next steps might include lab work or some sort of imaging if your doctor feels it’s warranted,” says Dr. Vyas. “And sometimes, it may include medication.”

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