Managing COPD-Related Headaches

Causes and Solutions for COPD Headaches

For individuals living with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), headaches can be a common and distressing symptom. This blog post will explore the underlying reasons behind these headaches and provide strategies for managing them effectively.

Lesley Williams, a Registered Respiratory Therapist at Apria with 35 years of experience, states, “Each day, the resilience of those facing COPD rises with the sun. In the face of headaches, we find strength in understanding, adaptability in treatment, and hope in the journey towards better breathing and overall health.”

Causes of Headaches in COPD

Headaches in COPD can stem from two primary reasons:

  1. Low Oxygen Levels and High Carbon Dioxide Levels: Headaches may result from insufficient oxygen in the blood and elevated carbon dioxide levels for individuals not on oxygen therapy. Weakened lung function impairs the absorption of air and the removal of carbon dioxide, leading to blood that is oxygen-deprived and carbon dioxide-rich. When this oxygen-depleted blood reaches the brain, it triggers a response in the blood vessels, causing them to dilate and resulting in a headache.
  2. Excess Oxygen Levels: Conversely, for those on oxygen therapy, headaches may arise from an excess of oxygen in the bloodstream upon waking up. In such cases, adjusting the oxygen therapy dosage with guidance from a healthcare provider may be necessary to alleviate the headaches.

Managing Headaches in COPD

Several strategies can help alleviate headaches in individuals with COPD:

  • Optimal Sleep Positioning: Using pillows or specialized devices to maintain a position conducive to breathing during sleep can help improve airflow and reduce the likelihood of headaches.
  • Medication Management: COPD medications prescribed by healthcare providers can help reduce airway inflammation and swelling, thereby improving lung function and potentially minimizing headaches.
  • Regular Exercise: A structured exercise program can enhance lung function and cardiovascular health, potentially reducing the frequency and severity of headaches.
  • Smoking Cessation: Quitting smoking is crucial for individuals with COPD, as smoking exacerbates lung damage and worsens symptoms.

When to Seek Medical Attention

If headaches persist despite being on oxygen therapy, it's essential to consult a healthcare provider. Persistent headaches may indicate underlying conditions other than COPD, necessitating further evaluation and management.

In conclusion, understanding the causes of headaches in COPD and implementing appropriate management strategies can significantly improve the quality of life for individuals living with this chronic respiratory condition. By addressing underlying factors and seeking timely medical intervention when needed, individuals with COPD can better manage their symptoms and enjoy overall well-being. For more information, explore 9 Ways to Prevent COPD Headaches.

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Cherney, Kristeen. “COPD and Headaches: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment.” Edited by Alana Biggers. Healthline, November 5, 2018. 
Editorial Team. “Morning Headaches.”, July 2015. 
Ozge, A., H. Kaleagasi, O. Yalin, O. Unal, and E. Ozgür. “Headache in Patients with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease: Effects of Chronic Hypoxaemia.” The journal of headache and pain, February 7, 2006. 

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Lesley Williams

Lesley has been a Registered Respiratory Therapist for 35 years. In her role here at Apria, Lesley trains clinical staff with new equipment and supports clinical program initiatives in the Southeastern United States. In her free time you can find Lesley spending time with her kids and grandkids, or out enjoying the sun on her boat.

About the AuthorLesley Williams