Is there any link between migraines and gastrointestinal problems?

Answers from Jerry W. Swanson, M.D.

There can be a link. Nausea and vomiting are often associated with migraine attacks.

In young children, several syndromes that cause gastrointestinal symptoms are also associated with migraines. These syndromes can cause episodes of vomiting (cyclical vomiting), abdominal pain (abdominal migraine) and dizziness (benign paroxysmal vertigo) and are often referred to as childhood periodic syndromes.

Although these syndromes usually aren't accompanied by migraine head pain, they're considered a form of migraine. In many cases, childhood periodic syndromes evolve into migraines later in life.

Research has shown that people who regularly experience gastrointestinal symptoms — such as reflux, diarrhea, constipation and nausea — have a higher prevalence of headaches than those who don't have gastrointestinal symptoms.

These studies suggest that people who get frequent headaches may be predisposed to gastrointestinal problems. Digestive conditions, such as irritable bowel syndrome and celiac disease, also may be linked to migraines. However, more research is needed to understand these connections.

If you experience nausea, vomiting or diarrhea with your headaches, talk to your doctor about treatment options. Treating the headache usually relieves gastrointestinal symptoms.

However, in some cases, an anti-nausea or anti-diarrheal medication or use of a nonoral pain medication may be recommended. Keep in mind that some pain medications such as aspirin, ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, others) and naproxen sodium (Aleve) may increase nausea.

Oct. 16, 2015