Ever notice that when your head hurts or you have a migraine, your stomach doesn’t feel so great either and you have nausea? There’s a connection that many people don’t know about – it turns out the brain and digestive system are closely connected, so when one system starts hurting, the other one does, too. 

But why? 

How Common Are Headaches?

Headaches affect more than 50 percent of Americans at some point in their lives. They’re most common between ages 15 and 44 years old. About 80 million adults suffer from migraines alone! That means there could be as many as 20 million people who experience both types of pain on any given day. And, if you’ve ever had an episode of severe headache, then you already know how debilitating they can be. But what causes them to begin with?

What Causes Headaches?

The exact cause is unknown for most cases of headaches. However, we do know that certain triggers may set off these painful episodes:

  • Stress
  • Smoking
  • Alcohol consumption
  • Poor diet
  • Excessive caffeine intake
  • Sleep deprivation
  • Certain medications
  • Infections
  • Other medical conditions

What Is a Migraine?

Migraine headaches are often called “cluster” headaches because they occur in clusters over time. But migraines are more than a bad headache.

This type of headache usually lasts four hours or less but can sometimes last up to 72 hours. It typically occurs once every two weeks and affects only one side of the face. The common symptoms include throbbing, pulsating, sharp pains behind the eyes, neck and jawline; a stiff neck; and pain in the forehead, upper back and/or scalp. These attacks tend to get worse during the middle of the night and early-morning hours. Some patients also report nausea; loss of appetite; vomiting; and sensitivity to light, sound, smell, touch and taste.

Some individuals also experience visual disturbances such as seeing flashing lights, blind spots, double vision, blurred vision, loss of vision or peripheral vision. Some individuals can also experience auditory disturbances as well.

Causes of Migraines

Most doctors agree that stress plays a role in triggering them.

Other causes of migraines may include:

  • Genetics
  • Hormonal changes
  • Food allergies
  • Food intolerances
  • Infection
  • Medications
  • Other health issues
  • Stress
  • Sleep disorders
  • Thyroid problems
  • Vitamin deficiencies
  • Environmental factors
  • Trauma
  • Autoimmune diseases
  • Brain tumors
  • Stroke

Those who suffer from migraine headaches often report that their head pain negatively affects their moods, concentration levels, ability to sleep, appetite, energy level and more. In fact, studies show that those suffering from chronic daily headaches actually lose five times more weight than others without this condition. So, while the pain itself might not seem like a big deal, its impact on the overall quality of life can be significant.

The Brain and Digestive System Connection

The first thing we need to understand is that our brains control everything going on inside us. So, when something happens to the brain, it sends signals throughout the body telling cells to start working harder. When this happens, the nerves send messages through the spinal cord to tell muscles to contract and relax. If those muscles aren’t used regularly, they become weak and stiff. In turn, this makes it difficult for the organs to function properly.

With head pain, the stomach can be affected because the pain in the head triggers the body to produce chemicals, including serotonin, that stimulates nerve endings elsewhere in the body. These chemicals can cause nausea and sometimes even vomiting.

What Should You Do if You’re Getting a Migraine?

If you think you might be having a migraine, try taking ibuprofen or acetaminophen. Both will help reduce inflammation and relieve pain. Also, drink plenty of water to keep yourself hydrated. Avoid alcohol, which can worsen headaches by increasing blood pressure. Try not to smoke while you’re experiencing a migraine; smoking increases heart rate and breathing rate, making things worse.

How to Manage Nausea with a Headache

When your doctor prescribes medication for a migraine, he or she will likely give you instructions about managing nausea. Here’s what you should do:

  • Take your over-the-counter pain relievers or your migraine medicine right away. Don’t wait until later. Taking the drug immediately relieves the feeling of being sick. 
  • Try to drink water. Drink eight glasses per day. Water helps flush out toxins and keeps you well hydrated.
  • Eat a small snack of pretzels, crackers or another type of carb to settle your stomach.
  • Take anti-nausea medicine. Ask your doctor about getting a prescription for an anti-nausea medicine or try an over-the-counter nausea treatment.
  • Throw up. When all else fails, try to vomit. The release of the chemicals from your stomach may stop the migraine pain. But if you vomit too much, you could end up dehydrating yourself.
  • Get some rest. Sleep is important for healing. Make sure you have enough sleep each night so you feel rested when you wake up.
  • Avoid caffeine.

Do you struggle with headaches, migraines and nausea? We understand head pain, and we’d love to talk to you about how we can help. Call us now to schedule a consultation.