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If you experience sudden a excruciating headache after passing stools, you are most probably suffering from a class of headaches called “exertional headache”. This type of headache occurs after the person performs a strenuous physical activity like weight lifting, swimming or running. It can also be triggered by usual daily activities like bowel movements, sneezing and coughing. Sudden headache after a bowel movement is quite common, especially if the person strains a lot during the bowel movement. It is therefore more common in constipated individuals.

The pain is usually severe and throbbing in nature and it may last from two minutes to even two days. The patient may have to lie down for a while. In most patients, it usually subsides after five to ten minutes. 

What Can Cause This Headache?

Over the years, a number of theories have been devised to explain the mechanism of this headache but the most popular notion is that all these strenuous activities including bowel movements increase the intra-abdominal and intra-thoracic pressure. This results in a decreased venous return to the right heart and an increased venous pressure. This increased venous pressure reduces the drainage of cerebrospinal fluid from the brain. This eventually leads to a transient rise in intracranial pressure or in simple words increased pressure inside your head. Pressure on the brain and nerve fibers subsequently causes a severe excruciating headache.

What To Do?

It is certainly a very painful condition and may sometimes affect the quality of life severely. Fortunately, it is usually benign and can be managed easily with some simple lifestyle changes and medications.

Lifestyle Changes

 If you are experiencing headache after defecation, this most probably means you are either constipated or straining too much. Here are a few lifestyle changes you can make to decrease this symptom.

  • Eat foods that have high fiber content like fresh fruits and vegetables. This the best remedy to soften the stool and manage constipation. Fiber supplements are also helpful.
  • Avoid processed foods and beverages, especially fast food. The content of these foods really slows down your gut.
  • Drink lots and lots of water especially before and during meals.
  • Time your bowel movements properly. This may sound ridiculous to some of you, but it is really effective. Our gastrointestinal system really has a good memory and we can train it easily. Try to have a bowel movement every night or every morning.
  • Don’t strain too much. Let the stool pass naturally by the peristaltic movements of the gut and with very little contribution of straining.
  • This one is an unusual remedy and most doctors may not tell you. Squat style toilets or Indian toilets have proved to be very effective for some people. When you squat during a bowel movement instead of sitting on a seat, your rectum straightens and becomes more in line with the anal canal. This results in an easier passage of stool.


If all these remedies fail to relieve your debilitating headache, you should consult a doctor. He will initially give you a laxative to treat your constipation, which is the cause in most of the cases. If there is still no relief, he will prescribe an anti-migraine drug like Indomethacin, sumatriptan or propranolol. These are prescription drugs and should only be taken after the advice of doctor.

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