Is there any link between migraines and gastrointestinal problems?

Answer From Jerry W. Swanson, M.D.

There may be a link between headaches and the gut. Nausea and vomiting are often associated with migraine attacks. And research suggests that people with frequent headaches may be more likely to develop gastrointestinal disorders.

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). They're often called childhood periodic syndromes or episodic syndromes that may be associated with migraine.

Although these syndromes usually aren't accompanied by 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 do 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. Treating these digestive conditions may help reduce the frequency and severity of 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, your doctor may recommend an anti-nausea or anti-diarrheal medication or a nonoral pain medication. Keep in mind that some pain medications, such as aspirin, ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, others) and naproxen sodium (Aleve), may increase nausea.

Nov. 01, 2018 See more Expert Answers