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.

From Mayo Clinic to your inbox

Sign up for free, and stay up to date on research advancements, health tips and current health topics, like COVID-19, plus expertise on managing health.

To provide you with the most relevant and helpful information, and understand which information is beneficial, we may combine your email and website usage information with other information we have about you. If you are a Mayo Clinic patient, this could include protected health information. If we combine this information with your protected health information, we will treat all of that information as protected health information and will only use or disclose that information as set forth in our notice of privacy practices. You may opt-out of email communications at any time by clicking on the unsubscribe link in the e-mail.

Nov. 24, 2020 See more Expert Answers

See also

  1. Acupuncture
  2. Antidepressant withdrawal: Is there such a thing?
  3. Antidepressants and alcohol: What's the concern?
  4. Antidepressants and weight gain: What causes it?
  5. Antidepressants: Can they stop working?
  6. Antidepressants: Side effects
  7. Antidepressants: Selecting one that's right for you
  8. Antidepressants: Which cause the fewest sexual side effects?
  9. Antiphospholipid syndrome
  10. Atypical antidepressants
  11. Biofeedback
  12. Botox injections
  13. Chiropractic adjustment
  14. Chronic daily headaches
  15. Clinical depression: What does that mean?
  16. CT scan
  17. Depression and anxiety: Can I have both?
  18. Depression, anxiety and exercise
  19. Depression: Diagnosis is key
  20. Depression in women: Understanding the gender gap
  21. Depression (major depressive disorder)
  22. Depression: Provide support, encouragement
  23. Depression: Supporting a family member or friend
  24. Diarrhea
  25. Headache
  26. Headaches 101: Know your type
  27. Headaches and hormones
  28. Headaches in children
  29. Headaches: Treatment depends on your diagnosis and symptoms
  30. Lumbar puncture (spinal tap)
  31. Male depression: Understanding the issues
  32. Managing Headaches
  33. MAOIs and diet: Is it necessary to restrict tyramine?
  34. Marijuana and depression
  35. Massage
  36. Massage therapy
  37. Mayo Clinic Minute: Prevent migraines with magnetic stimulation
  38. Mayo Clinic Minute Weathering migraines
  39. Migraine
  40. What is a migraine? A Mayo Clinic expert explains
  41. Migraine medications and antidepressants
  42. Migraine FAQs
  43. Migraine treatment: Can antidepressants help?
  44. Infographic: Migraine Treatments: Botox & Nerve Blocking
  45. Migraines and Vertigo
  46. Migraines: Are they triggered by weather changes?
  47. Alleviating migraine pain
  48. Monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs)
  49. MRI
  50. Natural remedies for depression: Are they effective?
  51. Nausea and vomiting
  52. Nervous breakdown: What does it mean?
  53. Nighttime headaches: Relief
  54. Occipital nerve stimulation: Effective migraine treatment?
  55. Ocular migraine: When to seek help
  56. Pain and depression: Is there a link?
  57. Pain Management
  58. Prednisone risks, benefits
  59. Prednisone withdrawal: Why taper down slowly?
  60. Relaxation techniques
  61. Seeing inside the heart with MRI
  62. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs)
  63. Serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs)
  64. Sleep tips
  65. Stop your next migraine before it starts
  66. Stress and headaches: Stop the cycle
  67. Symptom Checker
  68. Treatment-resistant depression
  69. Tricyclic antidepressants and tetracyclic antidepressants
  70. Migraine aura
  71. MRI
  72. Vitamin B-12 and depression