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How Migraine Headaches Can Cause Diarrhea?

Topic Overview

Migraine Headache is perhaps the most common disabling condition that affects nearly everyone around the world. It is seen mostly in females but males can also get it. It has been estimated that migraines affect about 17% of females and around 7% of males in the United States. There are various factors that can make a person vulnerable to migraine headaches. This may include genetic makeup, hormonal factors, and environmental stressors.[1,2,3,4]

When it comes to the pathophysiology of migraines, it is quite a difficult and challenging subject and is not completely understood by researchers. There are various neurotransmitters, neuropeptides, and brain pathways that are known to cause migraine headaches. Additionally, there are quite a number of comorbidities that have been linked to migraines including certain cardiovascular and psychiatric conditions. A recent study has found a possible link between migraines and gastrointestinal disorders.[1,2,3,4]

It has been observed that people with migraines are more likely to develop GI disorders than others. Some of the conditions that can be seen in people with migraines include H. Pylori infection, irritable bowel syndrome, celiac disease, and gastroparesis. Among all these conditions, one common symptom is diarrhea. Researchers reveal that people with migraines are more likely to complain of diarrhea.[1,2,3,4] This article explains how migraine headaches can cause diarrhea and what can be done about it.

How Migraine Headaches Can Cause Diarrhea?

As stated, there are some studies which have found a link between migraine headaches and increased possibilities of gastrointestinal disorders. Diarrhea is a symptom which is common in all conditions that have been associated with migraines. A person with diarrhea will pass at least 3-4 loose watery stools every day.[2,3,4]

Researchers are not clear as to what exactly results in a person with migraines to develop GI disorders but some experts feel that the generalized inflammation may be a possible cause. Additionally, gut permeability may also be a factor in a person having diarrhea due to migraines. The presence of good bacteria in the stomach or absence of it also plays a role according to some experts. However, more evidence and research needs to be done to establish a clear link.[2,3]

There are also certain medications that are used to treat migraines can cause diarrhea as a side effect. Medications that treat nausea and vomiting which is common in people with migraines have a tendency to cause diarrhea in some cases. Triptans also carry a side effect profile of diarrhea. It is at times very difficult to say whether the diarrhea is caused due to medication or is due to some GI disorder that may have crept up due to migraine headaches. Therefore, physicians recommend maintaining a diary about the trigger and patterns of headaches and when a person experiences diarrhea to find a possible explanation.[2,3]

How To Treat Diarrhea Related To Migraine Headaches?

Migraines do not have a cure as of now but treatments are available to manage the symptoms. As mentioned keeping a food diary is of utmost importance to better understand the pattern of headache and diarrhea. It may be possible that certain food and drinks may be triggering migraines and associated diarrhea. It is recommended to take note of the food they a person eats throughout the day and any symptoms that they may experience. Avoiding foods that may possibly be triggering off an episode of migraines or diarrhea can prevent any future problems.[2,3,4]

Stress plays a big role in people with migraines. Therefore, managing stress levels in a healthful manner can not only be relaxing for the mind and body but also prevent any attacks of migraines and diarrhea. This can be done through relaxation techniques, listening to light music, yoga, and exercise. There are quite a few medications that can be used either as an abortive or as a preventive for migraines. However, as mentioned above some of these medications may cause diarrhea and hence consultation with a physician before starting any medications and weighing the pros and cons is extremely important.[2, 3,4]

Some of the medications given for managing the symptoms of migraines include amitriptyline and nortriptyline. At times, antiepileptics and antidepressants can also be used to treat the symptoms of migraines. Along with taking medications for migraines it is also important to take medications for diarrhea. There are numerous over the counter medications available for diarrhea of which loperamide is preferred by many. However if a person experiences bloody stools, it is better to avoid this medication.[2,3,4]

In conclusion, recent studies have shown that people with migraine headaches have increased susceptibility to developing certain GI disorders including irritable bowel syndrome, celiac disease, and gastroparesis. All of these conditions cause diarrhea as a primary symptom. The reason for the increased risk in people with migraine headaches is something which is still being researched.[1,2,3,4]

However, generalized inflammation, gut permeability, and even side effect of migraine medications are believed to be possible causes. The best way to manage the symptoms of migraines and control the diarrhea is to maintain a food diary, cope with stress, and take regular medications for both migraines as well as diarrhea as prescribed by the physician to prevent further attacks of diarrhea along with migraine headaches.[1,2,3,4]


Sheetal DeCaria, M.D.
Sheetal DeCaria, M.D.
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Sheetal DeCaria, M.D. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:April 2, 2021

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