The Connection Between Migraine Headaches and Diarrhea

A migraine is a type of recurring headache that causes a wider range of symptoms than a typical headache, including sensitivity to light and noise, nausea, and vomiting. About 12% of American adults get migraines; they affect women more often than men.

A migraine can also cause diarrhea in some people.

Learn more about the connection between migraine headaches and diarrhea, plus how to treat and prevent symptoms and when to see a healthcare provider.

Man with stomach pain and headache
Hepatitis often manifests with mild fever and upper-right abdominal discomfort.

Paul Bradbury / Getty Images 

The Link Between Headaches and Diarrhea

For those who suffer from diarrhea during a migraine attack, the diarrhea often occurs during the prodrome (preheadache) phase of the migraine, before the pain fully sets in.

The exact connection between migraine headaches and diarrhea is not known, although research has found that people who suffer from migraines are also more likely to have gastrointestinal (GI) disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), celiac disease, and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).

Studies have shown that treating a GI disorder can help lower the risk of getting a migraine. Scientists are exploring the link between the gut microbiome (the bacteria and other microbes that live in the digestive tract) and migraine headaches, but more research is needed.

GI Disorders Are Prevalent

About 60 million to 70 million people in the United States have digestive diseases, including chronic constipation and IBS.

Causes and Related Symptoms 

If you have a GI disorder, you're also more likely to suffer from migraines. Other factors that could cause a migraine headache and diarrhea include: 

  • Stress
  • Hormonal changes
  • Caffeine or caffeine withdrawal
  • Skipped meals
  • Food triggers such as chocolate, monosodium glutamate (MSG), and yeast

Along with diarrhea, other common symptoms during the prodrome phase of a migraine include:

  • Nausea 
  • Sensitivity to light or sound
  • Neck pain or muscle stiffness
  • Increased urination 

Treatment and Prevention 

Treatment for migraines and diarrhea can help ease your symptoms and make you more comfortable, while prevention focuses on identifying and avoiding migraine triggers. 

Migraine Diary 

Your healthcare provider may recommend that you keep a migraine diary in order to identify possible triggers for your headaches and diarrhea. You should write down any symptoms you experience, how long they last, and how severe they are.

Make a note of any factors you think might have played a role in your migraine, such as where you were, the weather conditions, any foods you ate beforehand, and your sleeping patterns. 

Medication 

Several migraine medications are available to help alleviate your symptoms. These range from over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers like Advil or Motrin (ibuprofen) and Tylenol (acetaminophen) to prescription drugs such as triptans and ergotamine drugs.

Your diarrhea should stop once your migraine clears. An OTC antidiarrheal drug, such as Imodium (loperamide), may also help, but check with your healthcare provider first.

Stress Management 

Stress is a common trigger for both migraines and diarrhea, so stress management is a smart prevention strategy. Techniques for reducing stress include regular physical activity, meditation, relaxation exercises, getting a good night’s sleep, listening to calming music or an inspirational podcast, and playing with your pet.

Proper Hydration 

Staying hydrated is essential to proper body function and can help prevent a migraine attack. Be sure to drink plenty of water and other fluids; signs you may be dehydrated include thirst, dark yellow urine, and fatigue.

Keep in mind that diarrhea can lead to dehydration, so it's essential to drink plenty of fluids during and after a migraine attack, too.

When to See a Healthcare Provider 

If you have infrequent migraines that you're able to manage with OTC pain relievers and your diarrhea goes away after an attack, there may be no reason to seek medical treatment.

However, if you experience migraines once a week or more, your migraines don’t respond to medication, they interfere with your day-to-day activities, or your diarrhea is severe, it’s time to see your healthcare provider.

Summary 

Migraine headache and diarrhea can take a toll on your quality of life. While there is no known link between the two conditions, researchers are exploring the connection between GI disorders and migraine headaches.

Treating your migraine symptoms should resolve both your pain and diarrhea. However, if you suffer from frequent bouts of migraine pain accompanied by diarrhea that is not resolved with medication, it’s time to see your healthcare provider to get an examination and discuss treatment options. 

A Word From Verywell

Migraine headaches and diarrhea can be debilitating at times, but there are many effective treatments available that can get your symptoms under control so you can get back to doing the things you enjoy.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What causes an upset stomach, diarrhea, and headache?

    There are many causes for upset stomach, diarrhea, and headache, including stress, food triggers, weather conditions, and disrupted sleep. 

  • How do I know if my headache is from dehydration?

    Keeping a migraine diary can help you notice patterns and triggers such as dehydration that may be contributing to your headaches. Signs of dehydration include thirst and dark yellow urine. 

  • What are the best tips for fast headache relief?

    Over-the-counter pain relievers and prescription medications could provide fast headache relief. Other treatments for quick relief include resting in a quiet, dark room, putting an ice pack or cool cloth on your forehead, and drinking plenty of fluids. 

6 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.
  1. MedlinePlus. Migraine.

  2. Van Hemert, S., et al. Migraine Associated with Gastrointestinal Disorders: Review of the Literature and Clinical Implications. Frontiers in Neurology. 2014;5:241. doi:10.3389/fneur.2014.00241

  3. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Digestive Diseases Statistics for the United States.

  4. American Migraine Foundation. Migraine Prodrome: Symptoms and Prevention.

  5. American Heart Association. 3 tips to manage stress.

  6. American Migraine Foundation. When should I see a doctor about migraines?