Headache and nausea: What to do

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Headache is a symptom that medical science has not yet been able to fully explain. Interestingly, many times a headache occurs along with nausea, a stomach upset that gives the feeling that vomiting will follow. Also, the headache may be accompanied by other gastrointestinal problems, such as gastroesophageal reflux disease, diarrhea, and constipation (1).

When the headache occurs along with nausea, it is often migraine, a painful neurological condition characterized by severe pain on one or both sides of the head. Migraines are the most common cause of both symptoms. According to the findings of a review, 60-95% of people with migraines also experience nausea and 50-62% experience vomiting (2).

It is not known why the headache is associated with nausea, which may even precede it. It has been observed that gastric stasis – a reduced movement of the stomach muscles – may be the underlying mechanism of nausea, which may be caused by a headache. A study of people who experienced migraines with nausea found activity in the ostral dorsal medullary area of ​​the brain, which probably controls nausea (3).

In addition, people with migraines sometimes have reduced serotonin levels, which can lead to nausea (4).

What to do

If you have a high frequency of nausea during your headaches you can take an oral antiemetic. However, nausea and other gastrointestinal symptoms prevent taking medication or food during episodes due to fear of vomiting.

Measures to prevent headaches are recommended as they also deal with nausea. To find out what triggers your headaches – there are differences from person to person – keep a diary of your daily activities and diet. Typical measures you can take:

  • Sleep well, neither more nor less. Lack of sleep affects the functioning of the brain and can cause headaches. Those who sleep less than 6 hours tend to have more severe headaches. On the other hand, headaches can be caused by many hours of sleep.
  • Stay well hydrated. Dehydration is a major cause of migraines. The tissues around the brain are made up mainly of water, which shrinks when they are lost, causing irritation and pain. Too much alcohol causes dehydration and dilates blood vessels, leading to headaches.
  • Avoid excessive caffeine consumption. Too much caffeine can cause headaches. But the same can happen with a sudden lack of it when you are used to it.
  • Avoid foods that bother you. Sugar, chocolate, cheese, red wine, very hot or cold foods and nitrates (preservatives in smoked meats, sausages, bacon, etc.) can cause headaches in some people. Magnesium deficiency may play a role.
  • Avoid heavy odors. Some odors (colognes, cleansers, etc.) can release nerve substances that cause headaches.
  • Low blood sugar. Lowering blood sugar causes an increase in blood pressure, which is a common cause of headaches. Sugar fluctuations can be caused by a high glycemic index diet.
  • Manage Stress: Increased stress is associated with more headaches. Find ways to relax and avoid stressful situations.


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  1. Comorbidity of headache and gastrointestinal complaints. The Head-HUNT Study.
  2. Optimal management of severe nausea and vomiting in migraine: improving patient outcomes.
  3. The origin of nausea in migraine – A PET study.
  4. Serotonin and CGRP in Migraine.

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