Terrible headaches with COPD

Posted by postalrick @postalrick, Tue, Feb 12 10:52am

I have COPD – 68 years old – don't know what stage COPD yet – find that out next month – but, I would guess stage 3. Within the past 3 months I started having terrible headaches especially when coughing. Nothing, other than lortab, seems to help. Headaches/migraines last all day – seem to disappear when I go to bed – after rising in the morning the headache comes back after I am up from bed about 45 minutes. Coughing, which I do a lot and very deeply to clear mucus, feels like someone is stabbing me in the head with knives and makes the headache/migraine even worse. Is this or could this be too much CO2 in my blood and a lack of oxygen in my blood? if so, can this be helped. I am a 56 year smoker trying to quit. I am on Chanitx and have reduced smoking to 10 or less per day…will stop completely in a short time.

I wouldn't want to begin to guess but I will say often people have headaches when the wake up or over the course of the day. Almost the opposite of what you described. But headaches are a sign that your O2 is low, or that CO2 is high, they are two different things. The pulmonologist will be able to determine if that is going on and either way there is treatment for both. I know your appointment is a month away but it might not hurt to call them, let them know about the headaches and see what they suggest.

I smoked for 45+ years and quit with Chantix 3 1/2 years ago. I feel better today than I have in a long time despite severe emphysema. You do it, its done, you feel better, and you move on. I also found free tobacco cessation counseling at the state cancer center. That helped me a lot, a real lot. If you need it, reach out and get counseling to help support you while you quit smoking.

Once all the tests are done and you have a proper diagnosis, I would suggest that you talk to the pulmonologist about pulmonary rehab. It made a big difference for me.

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@postalrick – Welcome to Mayo Connect. I'm glad that you found us. It sounds like your are having a pretty uncomfortable time. First off I want to warn you that lortab can cause headaches and is very addicting. Please be very careful. Have you been to a neurologist for migraines? There are a lot of great new drugs available that can control them very well. Often times hard coughing, as you describe can cause pain in your head. When I had migraines I started to get them daily and it turned out that a medicine that I was taking everyday with my migraine med was causing them.
I'm not a doctor so I can't diagnose what is causing your headaches. Oxygen levels can be one of thousands of things that can cause them.
Would you share more information about your COPD and other health issues? Now I get to scold you. Cigarettes can cause headaches. I smoked for 35 years and they gave me headaches. You need to quit. ASAP. You already have COPD. Do you have emphysema also?
https://www.mayoclinic.org/symptoms/headache/basics/causes/sym-20050800

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@merpreb

@postalrick – Welcome to Mayo Connect. I'm glad that you found us. It sounds like your are having a pretty uncomfortable time. First off I want to warn you that lortab can cause headaches and is very addicting. Please be very careful. Have you been to a neurologist for migraines? There are a lot of great new drugs available that can control them very well. Often times hard coughing, as you describe can cause pain in your head. When I had migraines I started to get them daily and it turned out that a medicine that I was taking everyday with my migraine med was causing them.
I'm not a doctor so I can't diagnose what is causing your headaches. Oxygen levels can be one of thousands of things that can cause them.
Would you share more information about your COPD and other health issues? Now I get to scold you. Cigarettes can cause headaches. I smoked for 35 years and they gave me headaches. You need to quit. ASAP. You already have COPD. Do you have emphysema also?
https://www.mayoclinic.org/symptoms/headache/basics/causes/sym-20050800

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Thanks Merry. I do not have emphysema – I have chronic bronchitis. Yes, I am trying very hard to stop smoking…I am well on my way – went from 2.5 packs per day down to 10 cigarettes per day…will completely stop soon. Had a brain scan about the headaches…everything was fine as well as my sinuses. I want to see the pulmonary doctor BEFORE the neurologist because I really think my problem may be too much CO2. My family doctor told me that the test for blood gases (CO and CO2) is painful…any experience with this? I thought just a regular blood test would do, but he says no. Never got a headache from smoking…actually, right the opposite. I cough so very often that my migraine almost never goes away. I only take lortab when my grandson (5 years old) is spending the night – I do this so I can play with him without such a bad headache. I may take 2-3 lortabs per month – not very much. Thank you.

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@postalrick– Yes I have had blood gas tests. Instead of taking blood from a vein they take it from an artery. (You probably can find more about the reason by googling blood gas tests.)
When the needle is withdrawn the artery reacts (like an elastic band going back into its original shape after someone stretched it out.) And this causes pain, not unbearable, excruciating, screaming pain. But a pain that has you say out loud OUCH! That hurt. And you might say it more than once but it's definitely tolerable. And you will want to rub it to ease the pain afterwards. It goes away after a few minutes. What makes you think that you get too much O2? With COPD I would think that it would be the opposite.
I'm glad that you are controlling your intake of lortabs. They are basically Hydrocodone and those are very very addictive as you well know.
As far as headaches go here is some information on smoking and headaches. When you smoke your veins constrict which lowers the amount of of O2 that gets to your brain and whole body.
Also coughing can cause headaches for sure, and pretty painful ones. I'm sorry that you have to go through this.
Please feel free to ask more questions and please let me know what your results are.

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@postalrick When I had ABG they first numbed my wrist. That pinched but then I felt nothing.

Have you had a 6 minute walk test to see if your O2 is too low. Low O2 can cause a headache. I am not certain but I believe it is not very common to have high CO2 without low O2 unless your are using supplemental O2.

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Have you been checked for sinus infection? Recently while at my lung doc, he did a CT of the lungs and didn't see any change from 3/2018, then I mentioned that I sometimes wake up with a headache on the left side, and he said that maybe we were looking in the wrong direction, and then he had me have a CT of the sinuses, and they were so blocked. Now I am on a 30 day low dose of antibiotic, and so far no headache.Maybe that is why when you cough it hurts your head? Best wishes in finding out the source.

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Recently had brain scans to see if my headaches are stemming from there. Results were negative along with any sinus buildup. Still having the headaches every day all day…except while sleeping. Can't figure this out for the life of me. Going to my pulmonary doctor on the 13th of March. As far as I know I have not changed anything in my daily life – no med changes, no habit changes, no sleep problems, etc. Very disheartening.

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@@postalrick– Hello! How did the blood gas test go for you? Was it painful? Have you been able to quit smoking? Could your headaches be stress headaches? I get them in the front of my head. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/tension-headache/symptoms-causes/syc-20353977

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@merpreb

@@postalrick– Hello! How did the blood gas test go for you? Was it painful? Have you been able to quit smoking? Could your headaches be stress headaches? I get them in the front of my head. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/tension-headache/symptoms-causes/syc-20353977

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Thanks Merry – have not had a blood gas test as yet. I am going to ask the pulmonary doctor about this on the 13th. Stress? I don't know…possible, but I don't think likely. When at the very few times my headache is light…when I cough it automatically gets much worse immediately. I hate to say this but I really do believe the headaches are part of my COPD condition. But, I do remember having these migraines several years ago – they lasted for about 6-7 months and then disappeared. No doctor or specialist could tell me what caused them. Again, thank you.

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Had the blood gas test – ABG – not painful and was negative…no build-up of CO2. Went to pulmonary doc 2 weeks ago – no help at all – really just sat there and listened – only made suggestions AFTER I made the suggestion. I do not like him but his office is the only pulmonary doctors in my area – next closest is 65 miles away. He ordered a sleep study which I will have on May 2, 2019. Headaches are the same – have not gone away – still very painful all day long. He did not prescribe anything to help this…nothing at all. I actually believe he is useless to a large degree. It's really discouraging.

Also had overnight oximetry test – he said it showed that I have reduced oxygen level for a little over one hour during the night…so, he ordered the sleep study. I just don't believe that this will answer my headache problem.

Does anyone know how to rid yourself of mucus? When I get up in the morning the mucus has pooled in my lungs and throat. Of course I try to cough this up…in doing so my headache pain increases 20 fold. Any suggestions – cause I don't think my doctor cares whether or not my headaches get help or whether or not I get help for my COPD.

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Don't know if this is any help, but have you had an ultra-sound of your carotid arteries done? Perhaps after you get up for awhile in the morning the blood isn't flowing as well to your head? I, too had a pulmonologist who wasn't helping me whatsoever, so know how frustrated you must be.

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@postalrick

Had the blood gas test – ABG – not painful and was negative…no build-up of CO2. Went to pulmonary doc 2 weeks ago – no help at all – really just sat there and listened – only made suggestions AFTER I made the suggestion. I do not like him but his office is the only pulmonary doctors in my area – next closest is 65 miles away. He ordered a sleep study which I will have on May 2, 2019. Headaches are the same – have not gone away – still very painful all day long. He did not prescribe anything to help this…nothing at all. I actually believe he is useless to a large degree. It's really discouraging.

Also had overnight oximetry test – he said it showed that I have reduced oxygen level for a little over one hour during the night…so, he ordered the sleep study. I just don't believe that this will answer my headache problem.

Does anyone know how to rid yourself of mucus? When I get up in the morning the mucus has pooled in my lungs and throat. Of course I try to cough this up…in doing so my headache pain increases 20 fold. Any suggestions – cause I don't think my doctor cares whether or not my headaches get help or whether or not I get help for my COPD.

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@postalrick– Good morning. I'm sorry that you have had a bad time with your pulmonologist. Please reconsider looking for one outside of your area. It will be worth it! Mine recently retired. Now I have to drive to another county but it's worth it to me. Your headache will definitely get worse when you cough, esp if you are forcing it to get your phlegm up. Have you spoken to your PCP about your headaches?
This group has many many suggestions and ideas on how to clear your lungs. You should look through the different discussions

I hope that you have stopped smoking by now. If you haven't quit than any suggestions might be like swimming against the tide. When I smoked I had headaches when I coughed and they were pretty bad too. My cough disappeared when I quit. Please consider it if you haven't already.

Here is a whole list of you tube video on how to clear your lungs. I hope they work for you
https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=getting+rid+of+mucus+with+copd

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