Headache and nausea are common, and they can happen to you at the same time.
Experts don’t know why they seem to be more likely in some people. But they do know things like dehydration, migraine, or other conditions can cause you to have headache and nausea together.
Migraine: The Most Common Cause of Headache and Nausea
Migraines are the kind of headaches that are most likely to make you nauseated. Of people who have migraines, 8 out of 10 have nausea with them too.
Research shows women and anyone prone to motion sickness are more apt to have nausea with migraines. It’s not clear why women are more affected than men, but some experts think it’s linked to changes in hormones.
You can also get migraines during pregnancy. You might have pain on one side of your head and you may be nauseated. If you had migraines before you were pregnant, you may have fewer migraines while expecting. Or, you may notice an uptick in your number of headaches.
Cyclic vomiting syndrome(CVS). This gastrointestinal (GI) disorder is linked to migraine headaches, but it’s not a type of migraine. It happens most often in children, though kids usually outgrow them by the time they're teenagers. Some kids with CVS go on to have migraines as adults.
You’re more likely to develop CVS as an adult if you have a history of migraines or long-term marijuana use, or you’re prone to motion sickness. Triggers include hot weather, physical or emotional stress, and sinus or respiratory infections.
The main symptoms of CVS are sudden episodes of severe nausea and vomiting. These attacks can last for a few hours or several days. You might vomit several times an hour.
Between episodes, you may feel healthy and have no symptoms. Doctors might misdiagnose your CVS as food poisoning or stomach flu.
Common Lifestyle Causes of Headache and Nausea
Your lifestyle affects your health in many ways. It can sometimes increase your risk for headache and nausea. Or, you may have a health condition you can’t help, but you might get headache and nausea if your condition isn’t well-managed or controlled. Here are some examples:
Alcohol. If you overdo it, you can wake up with a severe headache and nausea, vomiting, or stomach pain. You might also be dizzy, really thirsty, and super sensitive to light and sound. Or you might have a headache and nausea and vomiting when you’re withdrawing from alcohol.
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 feel tired and have trouble concentrating.
Nicotine. Too much can lead to a headache and nausea, with or without vomiting. You might also have a fast heartbeat, tightness in your chest, and trouble breathing.
Food poisoning. If you eat food that has certain germs in it, you may have headaches and nausea. Or, if you’re throwing up a lot from eating bad food, you might become dehydrated. That can also give you a headache.
Other Conditions That Can Cause Headache and Nausea
If you’re having headaches and nausea, see your doctor and tell them about your symptoms and what seems to trigger them. They’ll help you figure out what’s going on and help you choose the right treatment.
Some common causes for headache and nausea are:
Cold, flu, or stomach infections. These 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 depend on the virus.
COVID-19. The coronaviruses that cause COVID-19, severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) have similar symptoms. They include headache, nausea, vomiting, fever, a cough, and trouble breathing.
Low blood sugar. This can cause you to have nausea and headache. You might faint or be sweaty and confused. A headache can also be a sign of high blood sugar. Without treatment, high blood sugar in people with diabetes can lead to a serious condition called diabetic ketoacidosis. It can cause nausea and vomiting, weakness, confusion, or a coma.
Medication withdrawal. Headache and nausea can happen when you stop taking some meds, especially common antidepressants like Lexapro, Prozac, and Zoloft.
PMSand menstrual cycle. Changes in your hormone levels can cause nauseating headaches, which usually strike 2 days before, or in the first 3 days of, your period. You might have throbbing pain on one side of your head along with nausea and sensitivity to light.
Preeclampsia. This condition is marked by high blood pressure during your pregnancy. You may not notice any symptoms. Or you could have severe headaches, vision changes, belly pain, nausea, or vomiting. You might pee less than usual. HELLP syndrome, a rarer condition linked to preeclampsia, can also cause you to have headache and nausea.
Food poisoning. Germs that can lurk in your food may cause headaches and nausea. Or, if you’re throwing up a lot, you might become dehydrated. That can also give you a headache.
High blood pressure. A severe headache, nausea, and vomiting are among the symptoms of very high blood pressure. You might hear this called a hypertensive crisis or malignant hypertension.
High elevations. When you go to a much higher elevation than you’re used to, you might get altitude sickness, also known as mountain sickness. Headache and nausea are two of its symptoms.
Glaucoma. High pressure inside your eyes can cause a headache along with nausea and vomiting.
Rare Causes of Headaches and Nausea
Some less common causes may include:
- Inner ear infection
- Carbon monoxide poisoning
- West Nile virus
- Toxic shock syndrome
- Dengue fever
- Black widow bite
- Cluster headaches
- Brain bleeding
- Brain injury
- Brain tumor
- Brain infection
- Acoustic neuroma (tumor around the nerves that connect your inner ear and your brain)
- Malaria and yellow fever
- Hepatitis A
- Fifth disease
- Kidney disease
Treatments for Headaches and Nausea
Some things that might help include:
- Reduce your stress. Stress is a common trigger for nauseating headaches. Find ways to cut it, and your attacks could get less severe and happen less often.
- Quit smoking.
- Keep a diary to identify any foods that trigger your headaches. Common culprits include chocolate and alcohol.
- Get plenty of sleep and rest.
- Take your meds. Your doctor might prescribe drugs to help prevent your headaches, especially if you’re diagnosed with migraines. Meds may also help stop your headache after it starts, or ease your symptoms. You can also take anti-nausea medications during your headaches. They come in different forms, like pills, nasal sprays, suppositories, syrups, and shots. They have a number of side effects, so work with your doctor to find the best one for you.
- Try complementary treatments. Some evidence shows that biofeedback and acupuncture may help ease migraines and other kinds of headaches and related symptoms, such as nausea.