Research Finds Connection between Migraine and Gastrointestinal Disorders

Evidence has recently supported a complex neurobiologic basis for migraine with origins beyond the brain. This theory involves the gut-brain axis, which suggests an interaction between the brain and the gastrointestinal tract.

The exact mechanisms are unclear; however, a recent study provides a summary of the published research linking migraine and gastrointestinal-related disorders. This investigation found a link between migraine and various gastrointestinal diseases, including irritable bowel syndrome, inflammatory bowel disease, celiac disease, Helicobacter pylori infection, and cyclic vomiting syndrome, as well as food allergy and infantile colic.

“In young children, several syndromes that cause gastrointestinal symptoms are associated with migraines,” Philip Rosenthal, MD, professor of pediatrics at the University of California, San Francisco, told Neurology Advisor. “These syndromes can cause episodes of cyclic vomiting, abdominal pain (abdominal migraine), and dizziness (benign paroxysmal vertigo) and are often referred to as childhood periodic syndromes.”

A population-based study and case-control study of children and adolescents found similarities between migraine and gastrointestinal disorders. Among the children with migraine in the case-control study, 32% were diagnosed with gastrointestinal disorders compared to 18% in the control group.

This recent comprehensive study also found that an improvement of gut microbiota and a reduction in inflammation can have positive effects on strengthening gut and brain function.

There are limitations in the current studies. The various evidence suggests that it is reasonable for clinicians to be aware of the potential relationship between gastrointestinal functional disorders and migraine.

11 Comments
  • April Rosenfeld
    Posted at 17:39h, 22 November Reply

    I was a baby with colic. In school I was always at the nurse with intense stomach pains. By the time I was 12 my parents put me in the hospital to see if there was anything clinically wrong with me and of course, they found nothing. By the time puberty hit I suffered from menstrual migraine, but called it my “period headache”. When I was pregnant with my daughter, who is now 39, I suffered from migraine with aura-finally definatively diagnosed. They went away but the menstrual migraines continued until I was 42. Then everything changed. My head was on fire much of the time. I had to stop working. I had numbness on the left side of my face. The headache lasted for many days. I live in Montreal Canada but was able to contact Dr. Richard Lipton through email and he put me in contact with Dr. Paul Winner who really helped me. We spend our winters in Florida. I could not find anyone in Montreal to help. At this point, I am 66, I still suffer although not as much. Topamax has been a help as well as botox are my treatments as well as Atasol 8(which I know I should not take) however when a headache breaks through I just want to get rid of the pain. I take Magnesium and vitamine B and D. I am leery of the triptans because at my age I am afraid of constricting the blood vessels and having a stroke. My newest form of migraine is now vestibular. It comes and goes. Also, allodynia, skin sensitivity is a symptom. I smell cigarettes when no one is smoking. How crazy is our brain?
    To top it off, my son is a neurologist, an epilepsy specialist.

  • Anna
    Posted at 18:10h, 22 November Reply

    I completely support the hypothesis of the connection between migraine and the gastro-intestinal tract,

    i am a 73 year old woman. When I was seven years old, I developed intense abdominal pains. At the same time my older sister remembers our both being exposed to the beginnings of sexual abuse (my father calling us into the bedroom to show us his penis one night when my mother was away). I don’t remember any sexual abuse from him until some years later. (His abuse became focused on her, until I was age eleven and at that point, I was able to protect myself from direct abuse but at the cost of intense fear & anxiety.
    I gradually developed a pattern of vomiting in response to stress, and regularly vomited after stressful meals with my father’s rage and intrusiveness. I still vomited in response to stress when I was 26 and had my first child. At that point, I forcibly stopped this pattern. that same year, and I believe, shortly after this change, I began to develop migraines primarily in my left temple, (without aura), which accompanied the onset of my menstrual cycle. These migraines eventually became more highly responsive to stress than to my menstrual cycle.
    Depth Psychotherapy and a spiritual practice, (for me Contemplation) have been profoundly helpful in resolving the psycho-somatic issues involved. And with careful diet (No alcohol, caffeine, chocolate, aged cheesed)along with preventive medications my migraines are quite minor at this point..I also have had Irritable Bowel Syndrome throughout my life. Because of the response of my gastrointestinal tract, I am lactose and soy free. In the last year with the addition of a gluten free diet, of acupuncture that is really helping me (I have tried acupuncture before, unsuccessfully), massage, occasional chiropractic, and practices of meditation, mental health and physical exercise, I have begun to reduce my preventive and abortive medications/ I am now doing very well and hoping to reduce more medication. I expect I will always need to be watchful of diet, stress, sleep and bright lights.
    I extend my grateful respect to the researchers who are looking at the interrelationship of migraine and gastrointestinal issues, and send my encouragement to the millions of others who are searching for ways to honor the body and soul in the context of this syndrome.

  • Rene
    Posted at 21:33h, 22 November Reply

    I have ALWAYS known that there is a connection between diet and migraines.
    When I ingest a food trigger ( as identified on the NHF food list) there is a time delay and when the food reaches my intestinal track—-the migraine starts. Certain foods are sure migraine triggers for me.
    When dining out in a restaurant for example, I will ask the waiter to speak with the chef and report back ALL ingredients in a dish. If the offending Ingredient cannot be left out, I order something else.

    Nevertheless sometimes an error is made

  • Judy Buchholz
    Posted at 01:03h, 23 November Reply

    Very interesting. I am 77 with long history of migraines. i was recently hospitalized with severe abdominal pain, 2nd admission in 2 months. This admission, I also developed a migraine headache which complicated the diagnosis. Was i vomiting because of the possible small bowel obstruction or the HA? Interesting that i had the migraine along with this bowel obstruction. There were other factors also, but this new article raises this question. I have never looked at this connection before. Gut and HA. I was discharged 2 days later, did not need surgery and HA resolved finally with pain med. I have been on meds for migraine and am having tests for the small bowel problem.

  • Anonymous
    Posted at 08:40h, 23 November Reply

    Why didn’t you provide a link to this study?

  • Tina Simerale
    Posted at 04:22h, 24 November Reply

    This explains so much, thank you! I am 47 now & have been diagnosed with chronic migraines, BUT when I was 13/14 I started getting stomach aches,BAD, & vomiting. My mother took me to stomach Doctors, they couldn’t find anything wrong with my stomach at THAT time…I went threw test after test because it kept going into my early 20’s. I then in my early 30’s started to get hospitalized for my severe nausea/vomiting, but by then I was also right before the attack came in had severe diarrhea. Every time. They started doing stomach scopes,yearly. I have a hiatus hernia,& acid reflux but they just kept doing test on my stomach. Until the severe migraines started when I was 38. I see a Neurologist now because doctors tried every treatment,they didn’t work, I would just end up hospitalized. So I receive Botox for chronic migraines,I was getting 15/16 severe ones a month. I’ve never felt such pain & misery, & to throw up threw it &have diarrhea threw it was too much.

  • Joyce
    Posted at 18:20h, 24 November Reply

    I definitely believe there is a connection with stomach and migraines. I have daily migraines sincerely 8 yr. Old and I am now going on 77 yrs.old . My first systom is extreme diarrhea. I have gas and bloating. Thanks for the update
    I love getting your emails
    Joy Johnson8142@gmail.com
    p.s my doctor doesn’t have a clue about migraines
    Looking all my life for help. I have become a cripple.

    .

    • headache
      Posted at 10:02h, 28 November Reply

      Hi Joyce,

      Have you considered seeing someone on our healthcare provider finder list: http://bit.ly/1EDEE0v?

  • Anne
    Posted at 00:24h, 25 November Reply

    What about this same connection in adults? I did not have migraine until she 13, and no gastrointestinal issues until adulthood, although I did vomitvwith migraine in my teens. At about age 40 I started having severe vertigo ad a precursor to migraine and this had never improved. I am 57.

  • Mary Spencer
    Posted at 21:05h, 30 November Reply

    I have been getting migraine headaches a few hours before needing to have a bowel movement for the past year. I am 70 years old and have had a history of migraine headaches for over 50 years. They became worse during and after menopause in my 50s. In the past few years I have had aura with some of the headaches. But the intestinal link has been the latest link to seem to cause a headache. And after the bowel movement, the headache lessens or goes away. (No constipation at all.)

    Thank you for the information.

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