Healthy Living

Migraines and Nausea: What You Need to Know

Migraines and Nausea: What You Need to Know

Key Takeaways

  • 8 out of 10 people having migraines also experience nausea.
  • Women are more commonly affected by migraine than men.
  • The exact relationship between migraine headaches and nausea is still not yet established.

A lot of people are troubled by migraine headaches. It can be so intense that a person’s daily living can be affected. It’s not just the pain that makes migraines difficult to deal with. Migraines are also associated with nausea, which makes it more difficult and debilitating for some people. 

What Is a Migraine? 

A migraine is a type of headache, which causes severe throbbing pain at the front or side region of the head, but more commonly just on one side. Other symptoms can include vomiting, nausea, visual changes, and increased sensitivity to sound and/or light. Migraine tends to restrict a person from doing their normal activities and can last for up to three days. Migraines have a pulsating nature of the headache, and the pain of a migraine can be exacerbated by light exercise such as going up the stairs or with any movements of the neck. Nausea, on the other hand, means “feeling sick”.

Reports show that 8 out of 10 people with migraine also experience nausea, while 5 out of 10 people having migraines experience vomiting. 

Most of the time, it is very difficult to predict when migraines are going to happen. In some people, they experience an “aura”, which is a warning sign (like vision changes). When they experience an aura, they know that a bad headache like migraine is coming. But for others, they don’t experience any warning signs, making it difficult to prevent migraine attacks.

Why do migraines cause nausea?

During an episode of migraine, the arteries in the head, particularly in the temple, widen. Then, the widened arteries stretch the nerve fibers that surround the arteries, causing them to send signals to the brain. As a result, the signals cause pain and stimulate the SNS or sympathetic nervous system. The SNS originates from the spinal cord and extends to the organs in the body, which includes the stomach and intestines. The SNS is in charge of the body’s “fight or flight” response and mobilizes the body by slowing digestion, elevating blood pressure, and increasing heart rate.

When digestion is slowed down, the SNS shuts the pyloric sphincter. The pyloric sphincter is a ring of smooth muscles that separates the stomach and the upper region of the intestine. Thus, the stomach expands and any leftover foods will then stay in the stomach. This can then cause nausea that often comes with migraine headaches. This event also explains why oral medications for migraines are not effective once the migraine is severe as they are not well taken into the blood stream.

Another theory is that when the level of serotonin, a neurotransmitter, drops, the blood vessels in the brain will swell. This then leads to migraine. In addition, decreased serotonin levels are also linked to nausea and motion sickness.

There are certain groups who are more likely to experience nausea when they are having migraines. This includes people who are susceptible to motion sickness and women. About 50 percent of people with migraines experience movement-related nausea. The exact relationship between migraine headaches and nausea is still a puzzle to clinicians and scientists. However, these conditions are really connected as they have similar triggering factors such as stress.

If you’re having nausea along with your migraine, you need to discuss it with your physician as certain migraine medications may have an abdominal side effect such as vomiting and nausea. There are ways you can do to manage nausea while having migraines. Talk with your doctor to have different treatment plans.