Migraine headaches can cause extreme discomfort and pain, along with a range of other symptoms. Some people may experience diarrhea during a migraine episode.
This article discusses the link between migraine headaches and diarrhea, as well as the possible risk factors that could lead to such symptoms. We also outline the potential treatment options for migraine headaches and diarrhea.
Migraine headaches may occur alongside a range of other symptoms, including diarrhea. People who experience diarrhea will pass loose, watery stools at least three times per day.
It is unclear why migraine headaches might lead to diarrhea. According to a 2014 review, some studies show a link between migraine headaches and gastrointestinal (GI) disorders. Examples include:
According to the review, generalized inflammation is one possible factor that could explain the occurrence of both a migraine headache and diarrhea.
A migraine headache is an intense pulsing or throbbing pain in the head. An “aura,” which is a visual or auditory disturbance, often precedes these headaches.
The exact cause of migraine headaches remains unclear. However, experts believe that they may be due to temporary changes in chemicals, nerves, and blood vessels within the brain.
Some people find that certain factors can trigger a migraine episode. Some potential triggers include:
The main symptom of a migraine headache is severe pain on one side of the head. Other symptoms may include:
To diagnose a migraine headache with diarrhea, a doctor will take a person’s medical history and ask about their symptoms. This may involve questions about how often the headaches or watery stools occur, and whether there are any obvious triggers for these symptoms.
To investigate potential triggers, a doctor may test a person for food allergies or intolerances.
The following tests may also help to determine the cause of the diarrhea:
- stool tests
- blood tests
- fasting tests
- hydrogen breath tests
There are no specific tests to confirm a diagnosis of a migraine headache. However, a doctor may order a medical imaging test, such as a CT head scan. This will help to check for any potential causes within the brain.
Although there is currently no cure for migraine headaches, it is possible to manage the symptoms.
Some potential options for treating or preventing a migraine headache and diarrhea include:
Keeping a food diary
People who suspect that certain foods or beverages trigger their migraines and diarrhea episodes should keep a food diary. People can use this to record the foods they eat throughout the day, along with any symptoms they experience. Identifying and avoiding possible triggers will reduce the risk of future migraine episodes.
Managing stress levels
Some people find stress management techniques can help to prevent and treat migraine headaches. These could include:
- relaxation techniques
- biofeedback therapy
Biofeedback therapy involves using visual or auditory feedback about the body’s internal state to gain control over involuntary body functions
Taking medications for migraine
Some drugs that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have approved for treating migraine headaches include:
A doctor may also recommend drugs typically used to treat epilepsy or depression. Sometimes, doctors may prescribe tricyclic antidepressants to prevent migraines.
Taking medications for diarrhea
Many over-the-counter (OTC) medications are available for treating diarrhea. Examples include loperamide and bismuth subsalicylate. However, people who experience bloody stools or fever should avoid these medications.
The following tips may help to reduce the frequency of migraine headaches:
- identifying migraine triggers and avoiding them where possible
- managing stress levels
- taking any medications as prescribed
If a person experiences migraine episodes often, they may benefit from taking medication every day. When deciding which medications to take, it is important to consider the potential side-effects. People can discuss the options with their doctors.
Certain factors can increase the risk of migraine headaches and diarrhea.
Risk factors for migraine
The potential triggers listed above are the main risk factors for migraine.
However, estrogen may also trigger migraine headaches. This may explain why such headaches are three times more common in women than in men. Migraine episodes can become less common after menopause, when estrogen levels decline, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
Risk factors for diarrhea
The following factors may increase the risk of diarrhea:
- not washing the hands after using the toilet or before preparing food
- eating food that is out of date
- drinking tap water in certain countries while abroad
Symptoms of a migraine headache and diarrhea generally go away on their own or with appropriate home treatment. However, people should see a doctor if they experience the following:
- diarrhea lasting more than 2 days
- diarrhea that involves passing more than six or more loose stools within 24 hours
- migraine episodes that increase in frequency or severity
People should also see a doctor if any of the following symptoms accompany the migraine and diarrhea episode:
- difficulty breathing
- blurred vision
- weakness and dizziness
- severe nausea or vomiting
- severe rectal pain or stomach pain
- stools containing blood, or a black, tarry substance
Migraine headaches typically involve severe pain on one side of the head. The exact cause of migraine headaches remains unclear. Some potential triggers include tiredness, stress, and dietary sensitivities.
Several other symptoms, including diarrhea, may accompany a migraine headache. Some researchers have proposed that generalized inflammation may help explain the link between the two conditions.
Some potential treatments for migraine headaches and diarrhea include keeping a food diary, managing stress, and taking medications. Using these treatments regularly may help to prevent future episodes.