The good news? Your not-so-eagerly-anticipated colonoscopy is over! The bad news? You now have a raging headache. Is this normal?
Headaches Are a Potential Side Effect of Colonoscopies
While headaches aren’t overly-common after a colonoscopy, they do happen. Odds are you missed this side-effect in the fine-print because you were more concerned with other issues pertaining to your procedure. In almost all cases, a post-colonoscopy headache is nothing to worry about.
However, if your headache is accompanied by fever, chills, abnormal bleeding of the rectum or anus or persistent pain – call your doctor to check in and make sure everything is alright
Here are some of the most common reasons you might have a headache following your colonoscopy:
Sedatives used for colonoscopy procedures can cause residual headaches.
In order to help you experience a stress-free, comfortable colonoscopy – and to help your doctor get a better look inside the colon – it’s important for your colon to be relaxed. A simple sedative – administered orally or via IV – accomplishes all of the above.
However, some of the most commonly used sedatives – such as Versed and Propofol have headaches listed as a potential side effect. Headaches can be compounded if those sedatives are mixed with other sedative or anti-anxiety medications, including Demerol, Valium or Fentanyl.
You may be a bit dehydrated.
As you’re very aware after your colonoscopy preparation, you’ve lost a lot of water. The process of flushing the bowels eliminates almost everything that was previously retained inside them – including liquids. Then, on top of that, the bowels are mildly irritated from the procedure, which makes some people more susceptible to loose stool or diarrhea for up to a few days afterwards. This can cause further dehydration.
Dehydration is one of the most common causes of headaches in general, and may be the culprit in your case. Once you’ve returned home, begin sipping water slowly and see how your body reacts. Coconut water or a low-sugar beverage with added electrolytes might also help. Avoid alcohol or sugary beverages until your headache is gone and you feel back to normal – otherwise, you may find your dehydration headache gets worse.
Make sure to drink the proverbial 10 to 12 cups of water per day to fully re-hydrate again and always follow the post colonoscopy instructions from your doctor.
The let down of adrenaline.
If this was your first colonoscopy, or if you have a natural fear or heightened anxiety associated with medical procedures, you might be experiencing the aftereffects of an adrenaline rush. Often, when we experience stress, we operate in a fight-or-flight mode, causing adrenaline to flood the system – keeping us energized and “in control.”
Once the “threat” (aka your colonoscopy) is gone and the relaxing sedatives wear off, you may find the post-adrenaline rush causes a dull headache. Deep breaths, a good sleep, and proper hydration and nutrition should take care of this within 24-hours or less.
Lack of sleep.
Similarly, stress and/or the colonoscopy preparation experience may cause you to get less sleep than normal the night before the procedure. If you have a natural anxiety around medical procedures, you may have lost sleep for more than one night leading up to your colonoscopy.
Like dehydration, lack of sleep is another top cause of headaches. Once your dedicated driver gets you home safely, try to take a nap and rest as much as you can. Get to sleep earlier than usual that night and take deep breaths to help your system relax. Catching up on sleep might be all you need to make the headache go away.
Your blood sugar is low.
You just cleared your body of liquid and solid waste – along with some nutrients that didn’t have a chance to digest all that well. Then, you had to fast for multiple hours. Depending on your body’s regular blood sugar balance – as well as your metabolism – the headache may be your body’s way of saying, “feed me!”
Help your low blood sugar out by following the post-procedural< diet instructions provided by your doctor for the day of and after the procedure. This includes things like scrambled eggs, pudding, toast and mashed potatoes. As with hydration, start small and slow - with a bite or two at a time so you can see how your system responds. Everyone's body is different so it may take you a little longer to eat comfortably.
Tylenol is your safest best to relieve post-colonoscopy headaches.
Because ibuprofen can irritate the bowels and also works as a blood thinner, we recommend patients take Tylenol or an equivalent off-brand acetaminophen – as directed on the bottle – when experiencing mild headaches after their colonoscopy. This is especially true for patients whose colonoscopy included the removal of polyps or other surgical procedures.
Patients with a persistent or unbearable headache should always contact their physician to verify all is well.
Contact us for more more information or to schedule an appointment with a Colon & Rectal Specialist physician in one of our three Richmond area locations.