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Headache and Nausea: Causes and Treatment

Updated on Jul 20, 2021 by Dr. Amr Hosny (Headache Specialist) of Advanced Headache Center

Besides debilitating headaches, nausea and vomiting are the most common symptoms of a migraine attack that affects you badly.  Do not let this pain and stomach upset disturb your routine life. The expert pain doctors at the Advanced Headache Center will identify your migraine triggers and the causes behind nausea to learn what activities or conditions set off these symptoms. The migraine specialist ensures you get the best medication and remedies that work effectively and prevent further side effects and complications.

Headache and Nausea – How Are They Connected

Most people who face recurring migraines suffer from headaches and nausea or vomiting with some or all of their migraine episodes. Nausea is the most distressing aspect of having a migraine and often becomes tough to manage as swallowing medications in such a condition is very challenging and compounds matters.

When a migraine attack begins in the brain, it causes changes in the brain stem and affects the central nervous system. It is the reason you experience headaches, sensitivity to light and sound during an attack that results in nausea.

Migraines occur when blood vessels on the brain surface begin to expand. Low levels of a brain chemical called serotonin are linked to the swelling of these blood vessels, and it also increases the likelihood of motion sickness and nausea. Most migraine sufferers report feelings of nausea and vomiting till the pain lasts.

Migraine and Upset Stomach

Migraine attacks multiple parts of the body at the same time.  Most people report symptoms of headache, nausea, and queasy stomach during a migraine attack.  The stomach reacts strongly to migraines. The digestive system slows down and takes longer than normal, which results in delayed emptying and undigested food. It is believed to be a vital cause of nausea and vomiting during a migraine episode.

Sometimes the digestive process is slower in the patient’s intestines too, which leads to constipation.  Nausea can accompany the four stages of migraines, and the patients may continue to suffer from upset stomach even if the headache pain has subsided. The changes in the nervous system or the brain stem during a migraine attack are considered the most likely causes of stomach disturbances, particularly strong feelings of nausea.

Talk to your doctor about any unusual stomach disorder or pain you are going through, as prolonged nausea can leave you dehydrated and dizzy.  He will investigate the causes of your condition and come up with the best treatment to improve your symptoms.

Effect of Nausea Resulting From Migraines

Handling the effects of nausea with or without vomiting to accompany it can be very tough. It makes eating or drinking anything and keeping it down a challenge. Chronic migraine patients who suffer from headaches 15 days or more every month end up losing unexpected weight and face problems caused by poor nutrition and lack of proper sustenance.

Taking migraine medication orally also becomes a big task because the feelings of nausea and vomiting do not let the medication take its effect before it is thrown out. In addition to this, the slower functioning of the stomach also results in medications taking a longer time to act, making relief from migraine attacks and nausea very difficult.

Sometimes, even after the stomach conditions improve, nausea may not get better. Migraine medications like Triptan can worsen this condition even though it is recommended for alleviating migraine pain and its accompanying symptoms.

Cyclical Vomiting Syndrome (CVS)

It is a condition that seems to be connected to migraines and includes episodes of vomiting.  It is more common in children and does not always include headache pain. It has been discovered that children who suffer from cyclical vomiting syndrome suffer from migraines as adults.

Symptoms of a CVS attack generally include five vomiting attacks, with four of them occurring within an hour, over a period lasting between one hour and five days. It is not a sign of any other disorder, and the patients do not exhibit any symptoms between attacks.

Conditions That Cause Headaches and Nausea

Many other types of conditions and headaches can also cause nausea and vomiting.  They include:

  • Cluster headaches
  • Headaches accompanied by any type of viral infection such as flu
  • Meningitis
  • Dehydration
  • Low blood sugar
  • Hypertension
  • Stress and anxiety
  • Pre-menstrual syndrome

Some of these conditions act as triggers for migraines too. It often becomes difficult to understand if the nausea is being caused by a migraine or it is triggering the migraine. Only an expert headache doctor can determine what you are going through and determine the reasons behind recurring nausea and vomiting.

Headaches and nausea may also be a sign of some serious medical ailment that requires immediate medical attention. Consult your pain management doctor to know more about what could be causing these headaches and accompanying nausea to get lasting relief.

Treating Migraine Induced Nausea

Most anti-nausea medications cause severe drowsiness and lethargy, which does not make them a good choice for migraine sufferers. The treatment plan will depend on the causes or triggers of your condition.

Treatment options for nausea induced by migraine include relief products that ease the feelings of throwing up and settle your stomach to a great extent. Your doctor may also come up with ways to take medication without it entering the digestive tract to avoid the possibility of vomiting.

The experienced physician may suggest a combination of home remedies and prescription medications for handling migraine-induced nausea most effectively.  Discussing your symptoms with the doctor is essential for relieving this condition successfully.

Medications to Treat Migraine Nausea

Your doctor may recommend an antiemetic drug to calm the stomach and reduce severe nausea and vomiting.  Effective medications to treat nausea include:

  • Over the counter motion sickness medications, such as Antivert or Dramamine
  • OTC medications for general stomach upset, including Pepto-Bismol
  • Prescription oral, injectable, or nasal spray migraine medications, like triptans, as nausea during migraine occurs due to changes in the nervous system
  • Prescription antiemetic drugs that are taken rectally or vaginally for quick relief, such as promethazine
  • Motion sickness medication like scopolamine patches

Natural relief products and home remedies include:

  • Ginger root tea
  • Aromatic bitters dissolved in ginger beer
  • Soft drinks
  • Staying hydrated and sipping unsweetened tea or clear broth
  • Aromatherapy, especially using peppermint or citrus scent
  • Cold pads on the forehead or back of the neck
  • Focused breathing
  • Getting fresh air

Alternative therapies include:

  • Acupuncture
  • Biofeedback to control some of the body functions
  • Lifestyle changes such as quitting smoking and common triggers such as chocolate and alcohol

If the abovementioned treatment options fail to provide the desired relief from migraine-induced nausea and vomiting, let your doctor know about this. As a last resort, the doctor may suggest a spring transcranial magnetic stimulator. It is a prescription device that sends pulses of magnetic energy into the brain at the start of a migraine with aura, and it can reduce or possibly stop the migraine attack and its effects.

Living with frequently occurring migraines that cause intense headaches and nausea is challenging. The expert pain management doctors at the Advanced Headache Center focus on diagnosing your condition. They figure out what is causing such severe symptoms to develop positive solutions that target specific discomfort.  Knowing more about nausea treatment options and remedies can help you choose the best medications and alternative therapies to prevent further painful episodes and enjoy better health.

Dr. Amr Hosny has either authored or reviewed and approved this content. Advanced Headache Center 41 5th Avenue,
New York, NY 10003
(646) 419-3105