Is there a link between migraines and gastrointestinal problems?

Answer From Narayan Kissoon, MD

There may be a connection between headaches and the gut. Nausea and vomiting often occur with migraine attacks. And research suggests that people who have headaches often may be more likely to develop gastrointestinal disorders.

Research has shown that people who experience symptoms such as reflux, diarrhea, constipation and nausea are more likely to have headaches than people who don't.

And digestive conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome and celiac disease may be linked to migraines. Treating the conditions may help reduce how many migraines people have or how intense they feel. However, more research is needed to understand these connections.

In young children, several syndromes that cause gastrointestinal symptoms are associated with migraines. These syndromes can cause episodes of vomiting, known as cyclical vomiting. Or they may cause stomach pain, known as abdominal migraine, or dizziness, known as benign paroxysmal vertigo of childhood. These are called childhood periodic syndromes or episodic syndromes. They don't usually cause head pain. But often these children will have migraines later in life.

If you experience nausea, vomiting or diarrhea with headaches, talk to your health care provider. Treating the headache usually relieves the symptoms.

In some cases, your health care provider may recommend an anti-nausea or anti-diarrheal medicine. Or your health care provider might recommend a pain medicine that you don't take by mouth, such as a nasal spray or an injection. Keep in mind that some pain medicines may increase nausea. They include aspirin, ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, others) and naproxen sodium (Aleve).


Narayan Kissoon, MD

Feb. 28, 2023