Cyclic Vomiting Syndrome and Abdominal Migraines

Cyclic vomiting syndrome (CVS) and abdominal migraines (AM) are two different conditions. Both are rare, and both cause a lot of belly discomfort. They do have some similarities, but they're treated differently.

How They're Similar

Both conditions are linked to migraine headaches -- throbbing pain that can cause nausea and make you more sensitive to light and sound. And both happen most often in children, though kids usually outgrow them by the time they're teenagers.

Between bouts, a person with either CVS or AM feels healthy and has no symptoms.

How They're Different

Abdominal migraines are bouts of stomach discomfort that can last up to 3 days. You may have nausea or vomiting, but sometimes you just have belly pain. You also might look pale and have dark shadows under your eyes.

Cyclic vomiting syndrome refers to waves of intense nausea, vomiting, and other stomach problems for no obvious reason. Sometimes, these attacks are serious enough that you need to go to the hospital.

Who Gets These Conditions?

Between 1% and 4% of children get abdominal migraines. Girls are more likely to get them than boys.

CVS is much less common. About 3 kids in 100,000 will have it. It happens more often in boys and affects white children more often than African-Americans or Latinos.

Causes

The causes of these condition aren't clear. But we do know what may trigger an episode.

CVS triggers include:

  • Hot weather
  • Motion sickness
  • Physical or emotional stress
  • Sinus or respiratory infections

AM triggers include:

  • Being nervous or anxious
  • Flickering or glaring lights
  • Foods like cured meats, chocolate, and some vegetables
  • Not keeping a regular sleeping or eating schedule

 

Are They Linked?

Since the causes aren't known, it's hard to say if they're linked. But both are associated with migraine headaches. Children who get migraines are more likely to have cyclic vomiting syndrome.

And children who get abdominal migraines are likely to get migraine headaches when they grow up. They're also likely to have parents or relatives with a history of them.

Nausea and vomiting are often common symptoms of migraine attacks. People who get those headaches are often more likely to have stomach or intestinal problems.

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Diagnosis

Doctors often diagnose CVS by ruling out other possible causes, such as food poisoning, the flu, or problems with the digestive system. Your doctor will give you or your child a physical exam, ask about previous episodes, and look at your family and medical history.

She also might ask for a blood or urine test or use X-rays or other tests to look for stomach, intestine, or kidney problems. Depending on the results, you might need to see a gastroenterologist. That's a specialist who treats problems with the digestive system.

AM is diagnosed in a similar way. If you or your child has repeated problems with stomach pain, loss of appetite, or nausea, and your doctor can't match your symptoms to another digestive or kidney issue, the cause might be abdominal migraines.

Treatment

There aren't many ways to treat AM. But it may help to take medication that's used for migraine headaches.

If you have CVS, your doctor may give you anti-nausea drugs to keep you from throwing up, antacids to ease stomach discomfort, or drugs to help with anxiety.

If you can't hold anything down, you're more likely to become dehydrated. In severe cases, you might need to go to a hospital to replace the fluids and minerals you lost through vomiting.

Managing AM and CVS

If you have AM or CVS, it helps to know what things trigger your attacks. Then, you can stay away from them. One way is to help figure our your triggers is to keep a diary of what you or your child did before each episode.

There are no known cures for these conditions. But your doctor can help you develop a plan to manage your symptoms. You can also ask him if there are clinical trials you can take part in. These trials test new drugs to see if they're safe and if they work. They often are a way for people to try new medicine that isn't available to everyone.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by William Blahd, MD on March 16, 2017

Sources

SOURCES:

International Headache Society, International Classification of Headache Disorders, third edition (Beta version).

American Migraine Foundation: "Abdominal Migraine."

University of Chicago Pediatrics Clerkship: "Abdominal Migraine and Cyclic Vomiting Syndrome."

National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases: "Cyclic Vomiting Syndrome."

Cephalalgia: "Abdominal migraine."

Cyclic Vomiting Syndrome Association.

Gastroenterology: "Childhood Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders: Child/Adolescent."

American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: "Food sources of nitrates and nitrites."

Clinical and Translational Allergy: "Sensitivity to food additives, vaso-active amines and salicylates: a review of the evidence."

Headache: "Abdominal Migraine: An Under-Diagnosed Cause of Recurrent Abdominal Pain in Children."

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