7 Reasons Your Head Feels Heavy & How to Treat It

September 2022

The sensation of your head feeling heavy is a relatively common discomfort that can emerge after episodes of sinusitis, low blood pressure, hypoglycemia or after consuming lots of of alcohol.

However, a heavy head accompanied by other symptoms like dizziness and general malaise can be a sign of a more serious problem, like labyrinthitis or vision disturbances. 

If your head feels heavy and you also other symptoms, you should see your family doctor or neurologist for assessment. The doctor may order tests like a CT scan, MRI or bloodwork. Treatment should be prescribed by the doctor and will depend on the diagnosis, however the doctor can recommend medications to relieve symptoms. 

The main causes of a heavy-feeling head are: 

1. Sinusitis 

Sinusitis is an inflammation that occurs in the nasal cavities of the face. These are located around the nose, eyes and forehead, and are full of air. They serve to heat-up and humidify inhaled air, support the weight of the brain, and to project your voice. When they can become inflamed from an infection or allergy, discharge starts to accumulate within them. 

The accumulation of discharge in the sinuses can cause your head to feel heavy, as well as a stuffy nose, yellow or green nasal discharge, coughing, burning eyes or even fever.

How to treat: If you notice the above symptoms, you should see a family doctor or ENT specialist for management of pain, inflammation and infection if present. It is also important to drink plenty of water and to perform nasal irrigations with saline water, as these help to soften discharge in the nasal cavities and remove it. Check out other home remedies for sinusitis that you can use to complement your medical treatment. 

2. Low blood pressure 

Low blood pressure, or hypotension, can lead to decreased blood flow to the heart. Generally, blood pressure is considered to be low when it is measured at less than 90/60 mmHg. 

Symptoms like head heaviness, blurred vision, dizziness, and nausea can occur due to decreased oxygen flowing to the brain. Drops in blood pressure can happen for many reasons, like abruptly changing position, hormonal changes, anemia or infections. Learn more about the symptoms of low blood pressure so that you can recognize this condition in the future. 

How to treat: In most cases, a low blood pressure can recover by laying down with elevated legs. However, very low blood pressure requires immediate medical attention, as medication or other procedures may be necessary to bring it back to a normal value. 

People that take medications for high blood pressure should be monitored by a doctor, as low blood pressure can be a side-effect of anti-hypertensives.

3. Hypoglycemia 

Hypoglycemia is characterized by a drop in blood sugar levels in the blood. Blood sugar can be checked through a a capillary blood test and  is considered to be low if it is under 4 mmol/L. Low blood sugar can cause symptoms like dizziness, nausea, drowsiness, blurred vision, cold sweats and a heavy head. In severe cases, some people may faint and low consciousness. 

Symptoms of low blood sugar can emerge after prolonged fasting, intense physical activity,  binge drinking, when increasing diabetic medications dosing without a doctor’s guidance, if using fast-acting insulin without eating, or after using certain medicinal plants, like aloe vera or ginseng. 

How to treat: You should consume sugary food or drinks if you notice symptoms of low blood sugar. Great examples include a spoon of honey, a juice box, or dissolving a spoon of sugar in a cup of water. People who faint and become unconscious require urgent medical attention.

4. Vision problems

Some vision problems can make your head feel heavy and can cause other symptoms like blurred vision, light sensitivity, tremors, eye redness and tearing eyes. These problems can emerge for many reasons, from genetic factors to lifestyle habits. The most common vision disturbances are myopia, hypermetropia and astigmatism. 

How to treat: The diagnosis of vision disturbances is usually confirmed by an ophthalmologist, and treatment involves the use of glasses with corrective lenses. In the meantime, there are lifestyle habits that can help to improve vision, like using UV-blocking sunglasses and avoiding excessive time in front of the TV or computer. 

5. Medication use

Some types of medications can lead to head heaviness, like antidepressants, anxiolytics, and tranquilizers. Generally, medications used to treat depression can cause a heavy head at first, but this symptom starts to disappear as the body becomes more tolerant to the medication. For this reason, you should not discontinue medication in the first few days, especially without consulting your doctor first. 

How to treat: If you take any of the above or other medications and notice that your head feels heavy, you should report this side-effect to your doctor so that further treatment options can be discussed. 

6. Labyrinthitis 

Labyrinthitis is an inflammation of the labyrinth, which is a structure found within the inner ear. It is responsible for maintain balance when in an upright position. Inflammation of this structure can occur due to virus, bacteria, allergies or high blood pressure, although it does not always have a specific cause. 

This condition can cause symptoms like a heavy head, dizziness, imbalance, hearing problems and vertigo, which is characterized by a spinning sensation. These symptoms can present very similarly to motion sickness, which can emerge after traveling on a boat or airplane. 

How to treat: If these symptoms occur frequently, you should see an ENT specialist for testing to confirm a diagnosis and initiate appropriate treatment. Treatment of labyrinthitis usually consists of medications like dramamine and meclizine to relieve symptoms. 

7. Stress and anxiety

Stress and anxiety are feelings that can cause fear, nervousness, and excessive worrying. These feelings can be associated with a specific situation, or they can be a sign of a busy lifestyle with a lot of responsibility and little time for leisure. 

Symptoms of stress and anxiety include rapid heart rate, a heavy head, cold sweats and difficulty concentrating. These symptoms can worsen over time if they are left untreated.

How to treat: To relieve stress and anxiety, it is important to prioritize your well-being- Recurrent symptoms can be managed with psychological therapy, acupuncture, meditation and exercise. See the tea recipes for anxiety that you can use to help soothe anxiousness at home.  If symptoms do not improve with these interventions, medications like antidepressants and anxiolytics can be trialed. 

When to see a doctor 

You should seek urgent medical attention if your head feels heavy and you additionally experience symptoms like: 

  • Loss of consciousness
  • High fever
  • Numbness on one side of the body
  • Difficulty speaking or walking
  • Seizures
  • Blue fingertips 
  • Asymmetrical face
  • Mumbled speaking
  • Memory loss 

These symptoms are a sign of a serious condition, like a stroke, and require immediate assessment. You should call 911 or proceed to the closest emergency room. 

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Edited by Tua Saude editing team in September 2022. Medical review completed by Dr. Clarisse Bezerra - Family Doctor in August 2022.

References

  • MINISTÉRIO DA SAÚDE. Doenças Oculares: quais são, tratamento, diagnóstico e prevenção. 2019. Available on: <http://www.saude.gov.br/saude-de-a-z/doencas-oculares>. Access in 17 Dec 2019
  • ASSOCIAÇÃO AMERICANA DE FISIOTERAPIA. Labirintite. Available on: <http://www.neuropt.org/docs/vsig-portuguese-pt-fact-sheets/labyrinthitis-labirintite.pdf?sfvrsn=7d0e6c21_2>. Access in 17 Dec 2019
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  • WANJGARTEN, Mauricio et al. Abordagem das hipotensões ortostática e pós-prandial. Rev Bras Hipertens. Vol.14, n.1. 29-32, 2007
  • SOCIEDADE BRASILEIRA DE DIABETES. Hipoglicemia. 2019. Available on: <https://www.diabetes.org.br/publico/diabetes/hipoglicemia>. Access in 17 Dec 2019
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Medical review:
Dr. Clarisse Bezerra
Family Doctor
Dr. Bezerra possesses a medical degree and specializes in family medicine. She is licensed to practice under CRM-CE licence #16976.