Pulsating headaches and how to stop them

Headaches and migraines are terribly painful in and of themselves but when they have the pulsating or throbbing quality to them they can be unbearable. It can drive you mad with each beat. Luckily, as long as we know what they are, we will know what to do about them. In this article, I will cover what can be causing pulsating headaches as well as what to do about them.

What are pulsating headaches?

Pulsating headaches are a broad way to characterize our headaches known by their throbbing, aching or pulsating nature.

They feel as if the veins or arteries in your head are pulsing with each beat and this may be on top of the already painful head or as the main pain. The pain  comes and goes fairly quickly, repeating over and over again.

There are many causes and some of them serious so if this is out of the ordinary for you or if you have not been to a doctor for it then medical assistance should be your first go-to.

What is generally happening is that when the body triggers its headache or migraine mechanism it will dilate blood vessels to bring more blood, oxygen and resources to the brain. This combined with the incredible sensitivity caused by some headaches can then make the dilated blood vessels and pulsing of our heartbeat aggravate our headache. The brain itself does not actually have any pain sensing nerves but the meninges which supply blood to the brain and cover it do.

What causes pulsating headaches?

There are many different causes of headaches that pulsate as this is only a symptom and does not point to a disease or an etiology(cause).

The diseases and conditions can include:

But at the end of the day this doesn’t help us understand what is causing the headaches which is a much trickier problem.

Some of the causes and triggers can include:

Loss of sleep

Missing meals

Lack of core values

Food sensitivities

Environmental sensitivities

Toxin overload

Mitochondrial problems

Muscular tension

Excessive physical, mental or emotional stress

Nutritional deficiencies

Hormonal imbalance

Sensitivities to additives, preservatives, chemicals


Structural changes



Medication overuse


Here are two graphs with the most common triggers from a study done with migraines:

migraine trigger statistics

All of these headaches can cross over but in general there are some things we can look for to identify what’s going on:

  • Front of the head and low can be a sinus infection or allergic reaction

  • If the pain is at the back of the head and your nerves are actually painful to the touch then this may be occipital neuralgia

  • If it happens at night it may be a hypnic headache or migraine

  • If it comes in groups and often behind an eye, it may be a cluster headache

  • If you drink more than one coffee per day it may be caffeine withdrawal from the coffee or from not having the coffee frequently enough because you’ve developed a dependance

  • If you are taking more than one abortive, anti-inflammatory or anti pain medication per day or every day consecutively for a week or more then it may be a rebound headache

  • If it is caused by weather, has environmental sensitivities, after food, from fasting or any of the above graph triggers then it may be a migraine

  • If it has never happened before, is sudden and severe then it may be a very serious and rare condition and requires immediate medical intervention

  • If it is in your temples then temporal arteritis may be possible

  • If it happens when you stand up then this may be because you have low blood pressure or dysautonomia

What are the standard treatments for pulsating headaches?

The treatments for all of these are fairly unique but they are all generally some kind of prescription medication.

From migraines which can be given:

  • Ergotamines

  • Triptans

  • Analgesics

  • Opiods

  • Topamax

To cluster headaches which can be given:

  • Triptans

  • Pure oxygen

  • Corticosteroids

  • Calcium channel blockers

To hemicrania continua which can be given:

  • Indomethacin

  • Antidepressants

  • Nerve blocks

To allergies which can be given:

  • Zyrtec

  • Claritin

  • Allegra

For these it is best to get your doctors opinion and a diagnosis so that you are assured that you are safe and it is nothing more serious.

Some signs it may be more serious include:

  • A new type of headache

  • Change in your headache

  • Headaches after injuries

  • Headaches with a fever

  • Speech, vision, sensation, personality or motor control changes

  • Sudden and unusually severe

What are some alternatives we can try?

First and foremost whenever we have a chronic headache that our medications and standard treatment don’t satisfy we need to go and get functional medicine testing. This is a deeper and more comprehensive form of testing looking at what’s going on with your various body systems.

Our body systems are all connected and depend on each other. Often when we correct the body system going through dysfunction or stress, the pains and symptoms we experience go away. On the flip side if we simply do things to hide the symptoms, mask them and get rid of the pain, we can continue with the condition for years and decades..

Some more natural things we can try include:

See the video below on the 3 best natural ways to beat headaches:

Whenever we are dealing with pulsating headaches and especially if they are chronic and keep recurring we need to give our body EXTRA support.

Some of the best ways to do that are outlined in this article on the headache that won’t go away and what to do about it.

We always want to address the root causes if we can and make sure our body is supported enough nutritionally, emotionally, mentally, structurally, chemically, socially and environmentally

Do your headaches pulsate? How long have they been like this? Have you been given a diagnosis? Let me know below.

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