People who have been diagnosed with the condition known as migraine have a variety of symptoms, including headaches. Many who have migraine headaches often have stomach problems at the same time. In fact, 8 out of every 10 people in the U.S. with these headaches say they get nausea along with them.
A migraine is the type of headache most likely to make you nauseated. But other causes of head pain can make your stomach upset, too. Whatever type you have, talk to your doctor about your symptoms. She can figure out the cause and the best treatment to help you.
What Causes Headaches With Nausea?
Alcohol: Overdo it, and you can wake up with a splitting headache and nausea, vomiting, or stomach pain. You might also be dizzy, really thirsty, and super sensitive to light and sound. You might also have a headache and nausea along with vomiting when you’re withdrawing from alcohol.
Brain aneurysm: A ruptured aneurysm can cause the worst headache you’ve ever had in your life and make you feel nauseated. You might also throw up, pass out, get blurry vision or other trouble seeing, or notice pain behind one eye. Other symptoms include confusion, dizziness, problems walking, and sensitivity to light. If you have all these, get to a doctor ASAP.
Brain injury: You can get a headache up to 7 days after a head trauma. Your doctor may call it a post-traumatic headache. It often comes with nausea, vomiting, vision problems, dizziness, and trouble with memory or concentration.
Brain tumor: You can have a brain tumor with no symptoms. But they often cause a headache that gets worse when you’re active or in the early morning. And they can make you feel nauseated or throw up, as well as tired. They can cause memory problems and seizures, too.
Caffeine: Whether you missed your morning coffee or you’re trying to cut down, caffeine withdrawal is real. In addition to having a headache and nausea, you might also feel tired and have trouble concentrating.
Cluster headaches: You might have migraine-like nausea with these headaches. When you’re getting a diagnosis, your doctor will ask about your specific symptoms and how often they happen. Those details will help her figure out if your headache and nausea are related to migraine or to another illness.
Cold , flu, or stomach flu . These viral illnesses can give you nausea and a bad headache. But unlike migraine headaches, you’ll usually have other symptoms, too, like a runny nose, diarrhea, chills, body aches, and fever. Which ones you get depends on the virus.
Allergies: Foods are a well-known headache trigger. You’ll probably feel the pain around your sinuses but only on one side of your head. The pain can be throbbing and make you nauseated. Sunlight might make it worse.
Hepatitis A: This virus that affects your liver can also cause joint and muscle pain, a mild fever, rashes, pain in your upper right belly, headaches, and nausea. You’ll probably notice symptoms about 4 weeks after you get infected. You get this disease when you’re exposed to an infected person’s poop. It’s often spread by food or ice cubes.
Malaria and yellow fever: They’re often lumped together, but these diseases, both spread by mosquitoes, aren’t the same. Malaria results from a parasite; yellow fever from a virus. But both can cause symptoms like chills, severe headache, nausea, and fatigue.
Meningitis . A severe headache that causes nausea and extreme sensitivity to light may sound like a migraine. But if you also have a stiff neck, with or without a fever, it could be meningitis, which requires emergency evaluation and treatment.
Nicotine: Too much can cause a headache and nausea, with or without vomiting. You might also have a fast heartbeat, tightness in your chest, and trouble breathing.
PMS: Changes in hormone levels bring on these headaches, which usually strike 2 days before or in the first 3 days of your period. It’ll probably be a throbbing on one side of your head with nausea and sensitivity to lights.
Pregnancy: You can get migraines in pregnancy. You’ll feel pain on one side of your head and might get nauseated. Dehydration from pregnancy-related nausea can also lead to headaches. Some women get fewer migraines while they’re expecting; others notice an uptick in the number of headaches.
Tonsillitis: This infection mostly affects children. It usually results from a virus, but bacteria can cause it too. In addition to a headache and nausea, it can cause a sore throat and fever, make your voice scratchy, give you bad breath, and make it hard to swallow.
How Are Migraine Headaches and Nausea Related?
One theory involves a brain chemical called serotonin. Scientists think migraines happen when certain nerves in the brain signal blood vessels on the brain's surface to enlarge. What else makes them swell? Low levels of serotonin, which are also linked to motion sickness and nausea. It's possible that people with low levels of serotonin may be more likely to have migraines.
It may also be due to certain nerve pathways (vagus and glossopharyngeal) and brain pathways that excite an area in the brainstem that activates the vomiting center.
Some folks are more likely to get nausea with a migraine, like women and people who are prone to motion sickness.
Certain conditions associated with migraine are more likely to cause nausea or vomiting than others. These include:
Migraine with or without aura. Those without aura cause severe head pain, sensitivity to light, and nausea. People who have migraines with aura typically have warning symptoms 20 minutes to 1 hour before the headache begins, like nausea, vision problems, and dizziness.
Benign paroxysmal vertigo. This can be a precursor of migraine in kids, but can happen in anyone even without a history of migraine. It usually happens to people over 60. They often feel like the room is moving or spinning. They may get sick to their stomach or vomit.
Cyclic vomiting syndrome. It causes people, usually children, to have periods of nausea and vomiting that can last anywhere from hours to days. The condition isn’t a type of migraine, but the two seem to be connected. Many kids who have cyclic vomiting syndrome go on to have migraine as adults.
What Are the Treatment Options?
A number of things can ease migraine with nausea. They include:
Lifestyle changes. Stress is a common trigger for nauseating migraine headaches. Find ways to cut it, and your attacks could get less severe and happen less often. What else helps? Quit smoking, and keep a diary to identify any foods that trigger your headaches. Common culprits include chocolate and alcohol.
Medications . Your doctor might prescribe drugs to prevent migraine headaches, to stop them once they've started, and to relieve your symptoms.
You can also take anti-nausea medications during your headache. They come in different forms, like pills, suppositories, syrups, and shots. They have a number of side effects, so work with your doctor to find one that works for you.