Living With Migraines

‍Is Migraine Giving You Nausea? Here’s Help

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‍Is Migraine Giving You Nausea? Here’s Help

As if the pain of a migraine headache isn’t enough, it’s often accompanied by symptoms of nausea. In fact, nausea is such a common symptom of migraine headaches that it’s become a key element in migraine diagnosis. 

It’s been shown that up to 90% of people with migraine experience nausea, and up to 70% even experience vomiting.  According to recent research, nausea is cited among the most bothersome symptoms of migraine, along with light and sound sensitivity. Different from individual to individual, it can range from mild with loss of appetite to severe with extreme discomfort and vomiting. 

Why does this occur? The gut and brain are linked and able to communicate via nerves — for example, consider the “butterflies” you may feel when you’re nervous. When a migraine is triggered in the brain, it may affect the gut as well, causing stomach upset via the gut-brain axis, this two-way biochemical signaling between the gastrointestinal tract and the central nervous system.

Treating Nausea from Migraine

Stomach upset on your migraine day? Here are some quick, easy ways to help relieve it: 

  • Meditate or do deep-breathing: Focusing one's breathing is an effective way to encourage the body to relax during nausea. For example, it has been shown to benefit people experiencing sickness after chemotherapy. To begin, sit or lie in a comfortable place. Close your eyes. Place one hand on your chest and one hand on your abdomen. Inhale through your nose for about 4 seconds, feeling your abdomen expand. Hold your breath for 2 seconds, then exhale very slowly and steadily through your mouth for about 6 seconds. The mouth should be relaxed. Repeat for 5-15 minutes.
  • Get out in the fresh air: Certain odors or trapped air can act as stimulants to worsen nausea or vomiting. Breathing some fresh air may ease symptoms and help distract from the feeling of sickness. 
  • Find yourself a dark and quiet place: Dr. Christopher Velez at Massachusetts General Hospital recommends seeking dark, quiet surroundings to ease bouts of acute nausea from migraine. Retreating there may decrease light and sound sensitivity which can make nausea worse. 
  • Get physical. If you feel able, a bit of light physical exercise may help relieve some migraine pain. During exercise, endorphins released by the body act as natural painkillers, which may also reduce that accompanying nausea.
  • Stay hydrated: Dehydration is a common trigger for headaches and migraines — and nausea and vomiting can cause further dehydration. To stay hydrated and help avoid nausea, sip water often. 

Home Remedies for Nausea

  • Ginger root: Since ancient times, ginger has been used as an herbal treatment for nausea and other gastronomical issues. In modern medicine as well, it’s been shown to have such benefits and is listed as a remedy for nausea by the European Medicines Agency. Ginger may be taken as a supplement pill, oils, teas, or crystallized ginger. Although there are no recommended dosages, most studies suggest taking between 1.0–1.5 grams per day, divided into several doses.
  • Peppermint and menthol: Peppermint oil and menthol have also been used for centuries to settle gastrointestinal ailments, due to their supposed antibacterial/anti-fungal and anti-inflammatory properties. Some studies have shown their nausea-fighting benefits, especially during chemotherapy. A typical dose of peppermint oil is 1 or 2 capsules, taken three times a day, around 1 hour before meals. Peppermint tea is another common and easy way to combat nausea. 
  • Vitamin B6: Vitamin B6 has been shown in several studies to help reduce feelings of sickness and nausea. This may be due to its ability to help replenish deficient chemicals in the brain, such as dopamine and serotonin. The vitamin can be taken orally and is found at most pharmacies. 
  • Acupressure: Several studies show the benefits by applying acupressure, a traditional Chinese medicine approach, to control nausea during a migraine attack. For example, this can be done by stimulating the acupoint PC6 Neiguan, located on the inner arm near the wrist. To find pressure point PC6, place the first 3 fingers of one hand across your wrist. Then, place your thumb on the inside of your wrist just below your index finger. You should be able to feel 2 large tendons (tissue that connects muscles to bones) under your thumb. Use your thumb or forefinger to press firmly on this point for 2 to 3 minutes in a circular motion. Repeat until nausea subsides. 

Medication to Relieve Migraine Nausea 

Over-The-Counter (OTC) Anti-Nausea Medication

Antiemetic medications like these may work well to deliver fast relief from nausea and vomiting:

  • Pepto Bismol: Pepto Bismol’s active ingredient, bismuth subsalicylate, protects the stomach lining and reduces excess stomach acid to ease discomfort.
  • Dramamine: Dramamine is an antihistamine commonly used for its benefit in motion sickness. As an antihistamine, the drug may also have sedating properties. 

Prescription Anti-Nausea Medication

Prescription antiemetics tend to provide even greater effectiveness than OTC medications and work by blocking the function of the neurotransmitter dopamine. Dopamine has many different roles, including in the gastronomical tract, where it can cause nausea and sickness. 

These medications may cause side effects from sedation to movement issues (inability to sit still, involuntary muscle contraction, tremors, stiff muscles, and involuntary facial movements). 

Some of these medications include:

  • Compazine (prochlorperazine). Most commonly prescribed for nausea, it is also used to treat acute migraines, with or without nausea symptoms.
  • Thorazine (chlorpromazine). This antipsychotic drug has been used for over 50 years to treat schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Due to its low potency, it can also be used to aid in nausea and vomiting. 
  • Reglan (metoclopramide). It blocks dopamine receptors in the digestive tract, helping empty your stomach by stimulating gastrointestinal mobility. 
  • Zofran ODT (ondansetron). It blocks the action of serotonin, a natural substance that may cause nausea and vomiting.

Preventing Nausea

If you or a loved one are prone to nausea on your migraine days, here are a few things to remember:

Eat a healthy, balanced diet: Some foods, such as nitrate-packed processed meats, aged cheese, coffee, and alcohol, can trigger migraine attacks. For that reason, it's essential to learn what foods may cause your attacks so that you can help avoid related nausea.

Lose weight and exercise: One study has shown that an unhealthy body mass index is a potential risk factor for experiencing nausea during migraine attacks. This suggests that, by controlling your diet and exercising regularly, you may help to get those stomach symptoms better under control on a migraine day.

Fewer migraine episodes mean less nausea: Nausea is usually triggered by migraines, not vice versa. Reducing the frequency of migraine days is essential to combating nausea symptoms. Many home remedies are available for migraine sufferers. If they don’t help, it may be time to explore more personalized and prescription treatment options.

Stop by the Mable website for more information, or take our quiz to see how Mable may be able to reduce your migraine days by matching you with treatment tailored to your DNA. 

Sources
  1. NIH/National Library of Medicine. Clinical Predictors for Migraine in Patients Presenting With Nausea and/or Vomiting. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3816187/#B8
  2. NIH/National Library of Medicine. Gastrointestinal disorders associated with migraine: A comprehensive review. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5037083/
  3. American Headache Society. Most Bothersome Symptom in Persons With Migraine: Results From the Migraine in America Symptoms and Treatment (MAST) Study. https://headachejournal.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/head.13708
  4. ScienceDirect. The effect of breathing exercise on nausea, vomiting and functional status in breast cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S1744388119309557
  5. Migraine Disorders. The Overlap Between Cyclic Vomiting Syndrome and Migraine - Spotlight on Migraine S3:Ep21. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fU-mLCkfMTs
  6. European Medicines Agency. Committee on Herbal Medicinal Products. https://www.ema.europa.eu/en/documents/herbal-report/final-assessment-report-zingiber-officinale-roscoe-rhizoma_en.pdf
  7. NIH/National Library of Medicine. Review article: The physiologic effects and safety of Peppermint Oil and its efficacy in irritable bowel syndrome and other functional disorders. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5814329/
  8. ScienceDirect. The Effects of Peppermint Oil on Nausea, Vomiting and Retching in Cancer Patients Undergoing Chemotherapy: An Open Label Quasi–Randomized Controlled Pilot Study. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0965229920318549
  9. Mable. Home Remedies for Migraine. https://www.trymable.com/blog/home-remedies-for-migraine
  10. Mable. How Mable Is Revolutionizing the Broken Migraine Treatment Model. https://www.trymable.com/blog/fix-migraine-treatment
  11. Mable. New Migraine Treatment: Anti-CGRP Therapy and How It Works. https://www.trymable.com/blog/anti-cgrp-treatment-options

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Updated on
September 23, 2022
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