“Gastric headache” is not a medically recognized condition. It may refer to abdominal migraine or a secondary headache due to gastrointestinal or digestive issues. Some research links gut disorders to headaches.

The gut links to the brain, and some people experience headaches as a result of dysfunction or disorders in the gastrointestinal system.

Some people may refer to these headaches as gastric headaches. People may also mistakenly use the term gastric headache to describe abdominal migraine.

However, this term is incorrect, as gastric headache is not a condition that medical professionals recognize. That said, some research sheds light on how headache symptoms may arise from gastrointestinal issues.

This article looks at the gut-brain axis and what gastric issues may link to headache. It also discusses the symptoms that someone may experience and the treatments available to them.

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When someone refers to a gastric headache, they could mean either a migraine headache or a headache that links to gastric symptoms or disorders.

The International Headache Society (IHS) classifies migraine headaches as being either with or without aura. They may also involve gastric symptoms, such as vomiting or nausea.

Some studies have looked into the link between migraine headaches and gastrointestinal disorders, and this is what some people may mistakenly refer to as gastric headaches.

Additionally, some people experience headaches that are not migraine headaches due to gastric symptoms. They may also call this a gastric headache.

According to the IHS, abdominal migraine occurs mainly in children and involves pain in the abdomen, usually without a headache.

To understand how the symptoms of so-called gastric headaches may occur, it is useful to know how the gut and brain link to each other.

The brain and gastrointestinal tract connect by the gut-brain axis, which is a complex system that enables the gut and brain to communicate with each other.

The gut-brain axis involves the endocrine and nervous systems, and the bacteria in the gut influence the gut-brain connection.

Two parts of the autonomic nervous system — the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems — can directly influence the gut and the rest of the body, aiding the “fight, flight, or freeze” or “rest and digest” functions of the respective nervous systems.

If the body’s sympathetic nervous system is too active and places a person in a state of fight, flight, or freeze (stress) too often, this can negatively affect the parasympathetic, or rest and digest, nervous system.

The effect can be to switch off the body’s rest and digest function and cause gut problems, alterations in bowel movements, or effects on the body’s microbiome.

Microbes in the gut influence neurotransmitters and affect the brain, with some studies suggesting that this may play a role in depression, anxiety, and other conditions related to the brain.

Research has not fully concluded what gastric issues can link to headaches, though some studies have tried to identify a link between gut issues and headaches or migraine episodes.

For example, one 2020 review indicates that the following gastrointestinal conditions have a link to migraine headaches:

The review suggests that although the exact mechanisms are unclear, gut bacteria and inflammatory mediators may affect the gut-brain axis. It also indicates that diet and weight can influence this effect.

The authors suggest that dietary approaches that have beneficial effects on the microbiome and gut-brain axis may be helpful for migraine headaches. These approaches include:

H. pylori infection

Several studies have identified H. pylori as a risk factor for so-called gastric headaches. For example, a 2011 study found that H. pylori infection was “strongly related” to the occurrence and severity of migraine headaches.

Furthermore, the authors of one older study suggest that when doctors eradicated H. pylori infection, 84% of people experienced a reduction of headache symptoms or no headaches at all.

Other gastric causes

In addition to the conditions already mentioned, the following may be contributing factors to the link between gastrointestinal conditions and headaches:

  • dysbiosis, which is a reduction in the diversity of gut bacteria
  • hepato-biliary disorders, which are conditions of the liver and biliary system
  • constipation
  • gastroesophageal reflux disease
  • gastroparesis, which is delayed emptying of the stomach

A 2017 study revealed that gastric ulcers are more prevalent in people with tension headaches and migraine headaches.

The authors of the study note that autonomic nervous system dysfunction and sensitization, serotonin pathways, and food allergies may be contributing factors or mechanisms.

It is not exactly clear if gastric symptoms cause headaches or if headaches cause gastric symptoms.

According to one 2016 review, the symptoms that researchers have associated with gastric headaches according to the studies mentioned are as follows:

  • headache or migraine
  • heartburn, indigestion, or reflux
  • abdominal pain
  • altered bowel movements or constipation
  • nausea or vomiting

Treatments depend on the symptoms that someone has, so a person should consult a doctor for options.

The doctor may prescribe medications to relieve pain or digestive symptoms. Additionally, they may refer a person for further tests with a gastroenterologist or another specialist.

If the doctor diagnoses H. pylori infection, they may prescribe antibiotics to eradicate it or medications such as proton pump inhibitors to relieve the symptoms of acid indigestion.

People can also purchase over-the-counter antacids to relieve heartburn or dyspepsia.

Furthermore, a person can investigate any food allergies with the help of a healthcare professional such as a registered dietitian and try to avoid foods that may trigger their headaches.

Maintaining a moderate weight and eating a healthy diet may also help prevent symptoms from occurring.

Additionally, stress-relieving techniques such as meditation, breathing exercises, and yoga may help if stress is a trigger for so-called gastric headaches.

What some people refer to as gastric headaches may have underlying causes such as H. pylori infection, IBS, or celiac disease. These conditions can cause digestive symptoms and pain.

Research has established a link between the gut and the brain, but scientists need to do more research to find out the exact causes and mechanisms behind so-called gastric headaches. Symptoms and causes may be different for each individual.

A person should contact a doctor for a diagnosis and to learn about treatment options. Additionally, some dietary and lifestyle strategies may help relieve symptoms.