What Are Abdominal Migraines in Adults?

Abdominal migraines cause stomach pain but are related to migraine headaches

When most people hear the word migraine, they think of severe head pain. Abdominal migraines may have the word “migraine” in their title, but they do not cause migraine headaches. Rather, they manifest as pain in the abdomen, along with nausea or vomiting. These stomachaches frequently occur in children but also can be experienced by adults, in isolated cases.

Read more about the causes, symptoms, prevention, and treatment methods of abdominal migraines in adults.

Woman holding her stomach in pain

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Causes of Abdominal Migraines in Adults

Like migraine headaches, abdominal migraines are thought to be caused by neurological issues. There is a recognized relationship between the brain and the gut (the stomach and intestines), known as the brain-gut connection. Doctors don’t entirely understand what causes migraine headaches or abdominal migraines, but they know that there is a neurological component that affects both the head and the gut.

Oftentimes, abdominal migraines can have the same triggers as migraine headaches. These can include stress, weather changes, certain foods, or poor sleep. If you believe that you’re suffering from abdominal migraines, keep a journal to help determine which triggers might be causing your attacks. 

Abdominal Migraine vs. Migraine Headache

Scientists believe that an abdominal migraine and a migraine headache have the same causes, rooted in the neurological system. Migraine headaches in adults are usually characterized by pain in one side of the head. People with migraine headaches can find themselves sensitive to light and sound, and they may experience aura, which can include vision changes.

With abdominal migraines, the symptoms present as a dull, aching pain in the gut, usually near the belly button. In both cases, the pain is severe enough to interfere with a person’s normal daily functioning.

Migraines are cyclical, which means that attacks happen sporadically. In between attacks, a person with migraines of either type usually feels fine.

Although the symptoms are very different, the diagnosis and treatment of abdominal migraine in adults are very similar to those of migraine headaches. Migraine headaches occur more often in adults, while abdominal migraines are most common in children ages 3–10. Adults can experience them in isolated cases and sometimes in addition to migraine headaches, too.

Symptoms of an Abdominal Migraine

The primary symptom of abdominal migraine in adults is pain in the abdomen, usually located around the navel (belly button). The pain is usually described as dull, rather than piercing, but it is still intense. Oftentimes, people with abdominal migraines aren’t able to go about their day because of the pain. Vomiting is common in kids with abdominal migraines, but less common in adults. Still, adults sometimes experience nausea and vomiting.

Attacks of abdominal migraine can last 2–72 hours. Between the attacks, the person with a migraine usually feels fine, with no lingering symptoms.

Diagnosis of Abdominal Migraines in Adults

There’s no definitive test that is used to diagnose abdominal migraines, just like there is no test that can diagnose migraine headaches. Instead of relying on a test, the diagnosis of abdominal migraine is made based on a person’s symptoms. In order to be diagnosed with the condition, you must:

  • Have had at least five attacks of abdominal pain, characterized by a dull, moderate to severe pain around the belly button
  • Have no gastrointestinal symptoms between attacks, and no other gastrointestinal conditions

When to Seek Professional Treatment

 If you believe that you have abdominal migraines, you should speak to your doctor. There are treatments that can prevent and treat abdominal migraines so that the condition doesn’t frequently interfere with your day-to-day life. In addition, since abdominal migraines increase your risk for migraine headaches, it’s good to make your healthcare provider aware of the situation so they can track your progress and recommend the appropriate treatment.

Prevention and Treatment of Abdominal Migraines

The best way to prevent abdominal migraines is by avoiding your triggers. This might mean keeping a regular sleep schedule, managing stress, and avoiding foods that could cause an attack.

If you have frequent, severe attacks even after you’ve adapted lifestyle changes, you should talk to your doctor about medications that can prevent migraines of the abdomen. These are the same medications used to treat migraine headaches and may include antidepressants, anticonvulsants, and blood pressure medications. 

Once an abdominal migraine has started, you can treat it the same way that you would treat a migraine headache. The use of NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) like Advil (ibuprofen) can help control the pain. Triptans can be used to stop the attack before it gets worse. In addition, your doctor might recommend antinausea medications and rehydration, particularly if your abdominal migraines include severe vomiting.

A Word From Verywell

If you’re experiencing stomach pain, migraine probably isn’t the first explanation that comes to mind. In fact, many people don’t realize that abdominal migraine in adults is a real condition.

However, if you have persistent, cyclical, unexplained stomach pain, you should talk to your doctor about abdominal migraines, particularly if you have a family history of migraines. There are treatments available to help prevent and interrupt abdominal migraines, so there’s no need to let this condition interfere with your life. Reaching out for professional guidance and treatment can help you get back to the day-to-day activities that you love.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Can you treat abdominal migraines naturally?

    The best way to treat abdominal migraines naturally is to prevent them from happening. Keep a journal to help you recognize your triggers and avoid them. In addition, research has shown that alternative therapies, such as chiropractic treatment, can help improve migraine headaches and may help with abdominal migraines as well. Acupuncture has also been shown to reduce migraines and may improve abdominal migraines.

  • How long do abdominal migraines in adults last?

    Abdominal migraines in adults usually last 2–72 hours, when they’re not treated. If you treat the symptoms with NSAIDs to control pain or Triptans to interrupt the attack, the time the migraine lasts can be much shorter.

  • What does an abdominal migraine feel like?

    An abdominal migraine involves pain around the belly button. The pain is usually described as dull, and you might feel that your stomach “just hurts.” Even so, the pain can be severe. Some adults experience nausea, vomiting, or an aversion to food, but some don’t have those symptoms.

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5 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. American Migraine Foundation. Abdominal migraine. Updated September 4, 2016. 

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  4. Bryans, Roland. Evidence-based guidelines for the chiropractic treatment of adults with headache. Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics. June 1, 2011. 

  5. Zhao, Ling. The long-term effect of acupuncture for migraine prophylaxis. JAMA Internal Medicine. April 2017.