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 common with migraine attacks. And in younger children, recurrent bouts of vomiting (cyclical vomiting), abdominal pain (abdominal migraine) or dizziness (benign paroxysmal vertigo) — referred to as childhood periodic syndromes — also are associated with migraines.

Although childhood periodic syndromes usually aren't accompanied by migraine head pain, they're considered a form of migraine. In many cases, childhood periodic syndromes evolve into more-typical 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 compared with those who do not.

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 may be recommended. Keep in mind that some pain medications such as aspirin, ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, others) and naproxen (Aleve) may increase nausea.

Dec. 14, 2012 See more Expert Answers