13th July 2021

Why Do Migraines Make You Nauseous?

Last Modified: August 3, 2022

A migraine is a serious chronic condition often characterised by a severe headache lasting anywhere from a couple of hours to several days! During a migraine episode, the individual feels an intense, throbbing sensation on either side of the head, temples or behind the eyes and ears. Yet, migraine sufferers have to deal with plenty of symptoms in addition to a debilitating headache. 

While there is no such thing as a ‘typical’ or ‘normal’ migraine attack, some symptoms show up repeatedly during attacks. Examples are nausea and vomiting, with more than two-thirds of people experiencing these symptoms during their migraine attacks. The International Classification of Headache Disorders (ICHD-III-beta) lists nausea as a key symptom of a migraine attack.

But why do so many people feel nauseous and sometimes vomit during migraine attacks?

Like many other health issues, the medical world hasn’t yet pinned down one definite cause. That being said, there are several theories:

  • During a migraine attack, the digestive system slows down significantly. Doctors refer to this as gastric stasis or delayed stomach emptying. The undigested food waiting idly in the stomach is likely to trigger nausea and vomiting. This, in turn, makes it more challenging to take the medication needed to stop a migraine attack.
  • Cyclic vomiting syndrome (CVS) is a medical disorder that causes recurrent episodes of nausea, vomiting, and tiredness for no apparent cause. While the exact causes of cyclic vomiting syndrome in most people remain unknown, it’s been linked to migraines. This condition is diagnosed most often in young children, but it can affect people of any age. While some affected children outgrow cyclic vomiting syndrome, the condition transitions into migraine headaches for many others.
  • Advancements in technology and research have paved the way for a better understanding of migraines. Today, it is widely accepted that chemical compounds, such as serotonin often play a role in the occurrence of migraine attacks. Serotonin is a powerful neurotransmitter that’s responsible for some of the body’s critical functions. While you’re probably familiar with its role influence a person’s mood and libido, serotonin also affects your sleep cycles and digestion, among other bodily functions. Studies show that serotonin levels in a person’s system may rise and suddenly fall prior to the migraine episode. At the same time, low levels of serotonin have been known to trigger nausea. 
  • 2014 study found that people experiencing migraines with nausea showed activity in the rostral dorsal medullary area of the brain. This suggests that migraines affect nerve pathways that stimulate the central brain structures that control nausea and vomiting. It not surprising since the brain and gut are connected and able to communicate with each other. An example of this is the butterflies you feel in your stomach when you’re nervous.

How To Minimise Nausea and Vomiting During Migraine Attack

A migraine treatment plan will often include acute treatment options to stop the progression of an attack and relieve pain and functional impairment once a migraine attack has begun. It will also include preventive therapy to reduce attack frequency and severity of migraine episodes.

With this in mind, there are several steps an individual can take to alleviate nausea and vomiting.

  • Some foods can trigger migraines as well as nausea (such as particular meals or odours). For that reason, it’s essential to learn what foods trigger your migraine attacks since that could help you avoid related nausea as well. 
  • Talk to your doctor about prescription medications that can relieve severe attacks of migraine as well as its associated symptoms (nausea and vomiting). Often these medications can be administered in different forms such as pills, shots, suppositories or nasal sprays—offering more options for people who might find oral intake challenging due to stomach upsets.
  • Home remedies can also help some people. These include: stepping outside to get fresh air, staying hydrated by sipping water or unsweetened tea and taking ginger (the most common natural option used in the treatment of nausea).

The Bottom Line

While there are plenty of scientific studies on alleviating nausea, there has not been extensive research on migraine nausea in particular. So, unfortunately, you may need to go through a bit of trial and error to find a solution that works for you. 

The simplest place to start is with an anti-nausea drug prescription from your doctor as you figure out which other options may help you find symptom relief. Dealing with nausea is never pleasant, especially if you’re also suffering from other migraine symptoms. If one of these treatment methods doesn’t work, keep trying—sometimes, instead of a single solution, a combination of different treatments can work for you.

Treating Migraines with Botox

While Botox won’t help much with nausea and vomiting, it works wonders on another common symptom of migraines—headaches. Botox offers an effective treatment for chronic migraine patients by blocking the release of pain-producing chemicals inside the brain. Since its introduction, Botox has become an accepted treatment for chronic migraines when other standard treatments have failed. Botox can help an individual feel and function better with fewer missed days of work or social life. Talk to us today to learn more about Botox for chronic migraines

Post Reviewed by: Dr Baldeep Farmah
Medically Reviewed on: 13th July 2021
Dr Baldeep Farmah is the Medical Director and lead Doctor of Dr Aesthetica, a Medical Aesthetic Clinic.

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