Why do my migraine attacks often leave me with nausea?

Alongside headaches, many migraine sufferers experience nausea (feelings of sickness) when they face a migraine attack.
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Nausea is the term that describes the sense of discomfort – such as needing to be sick – that you may feel in your stomach. Many individuals experience nausea alongside the headache of migraine attacks. But what causes it? And how can you treat it?

What causes migraine attacks and nausea to appear at the same time?

As is often the case when it comes to migraine, there is no certainty over what causes nausea to appear at the same time as an attack. There are, however, theories which suggest answers to the question above.

Some individuals believe that the nervous system is linked to the joint occurrence of headaches and nausea. There are nerve and brain pathways, for example, that excite areas of the brain associated with sickness. It would make sense that these areas being aggravated would cause migraine attacks and nausea to appear at the same time.

Another theory revolves around a specific hormone: serotonin. Serotonin is a chemical messenger (also sometimes called a neurotransmitter) which is responsible for controlling our mood. It aids eating, digestion, and sleeping in order to keep us happy. When there are low levels of the hormone in the body, however, it can also have another effect. Low levels of serotonin make blood vessels on the surface of the brain swell. This is where migraine and nausea come in. For when triggers cause the brain to swell its vessels, blood flow to the brain increases. This increase in blood flow is believed to be a potential cause of headaches and sickness. Individuals who produce less serotonin, therefore, may be more likely to suffer from migraine and nausea.

There are also many migraine triggers that are also known to cause nausea. These include changes in blood sugar levels, alcohol, food poisoning, pregnancy, and anxiety and depression – just to name a few! Meanwhile specific types of migraine (like abdominal migraine) involve the recurrence of stomach aches accompanied by feelings of sickness.

woman drinking from a plastic water bottle
Staying hydrated is just one way to help fend off – or at least alleviate the symptoms of – migraine attacks and nausea.

What treatment options are available?

If you suffer from migraine, you are probably familiar with the different types of medication on offer to help prevent headaches or reduce any pain experienced. There are also anti-nausea medications available which you can take in combination with migraine drugs. As always, consult your doctor as to determine the best combination of medications without the risk of harmful side effects.

Is taking medication not your type of thing? There are other options out there for you! Lifestyle changes are a key example. Keep a diary to track any triggers, and improve your diet (by cutting out things like alcohol and replacing it with plenty of water!). Reducing stress is another great option, and alternative therapies like acupuncture or talking therapy can really help in keeping you calm, and keeping migraine attacks and nausea at bay.




More to explore

teenage boy holding his head with hand
Migraine in children & teens

What is migraine?

Migraine is not just a headache. Migraine is a severe neurological disease. This sounds complex, and it is, as the impact, symptoms and comorbidities (such as anxiety) can vary greatly from person to person.

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