Can Constipation Cause Headaches?

Studies show a link between migraines and constipation

Headaches occur when there is pain in the head, face, or neck, which can be sharp, dull, or throbbing. Constipation occurs when a person has not had a bowel movement for more than three days. People with headaches may experience constipation at the same time. While both are common disorders on their own, studies do indicate they may occur together.

Experiencing these two conditions simultaneously can indicate that another issue may be occurring. Read more about how studies show a link between these two symptoms in certain medical conditions.

Can Constipation Cause Headaches?

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Headaches and Constipation

Constipation appears to indirectly cause headaches.

Researchers believe that constipation may play a key role in starting a headache, or possibly that both headaches and constipation share a common trigger that causes the body to react. This response includes both headaches and constipation.

One study has indicated that for participants already diagnosed with headaches, the prevalence of constipation was 25%, which is higher than in the general population. Researchers noted that resolving constipation issues typically improved headaches.

What Exactly Is Constipation?

A person is considered constipated when they have not had a bowel movement, or passed stool, for three or more days. Constipation causes abdominal pain and stool that is hard, dry, and difficult or even painful to pass. Occasional constipation can happen to anyone for many reasons, including not drinking enough water, dietary issues, and even stress.

Severe constipation can become a medical emergency. If you have extreme abdominal cramps, vomiting, and blood in your stool, seek immediate medical attention.

Conditions With Both Headaches and Constipation

There are several conditions with known links to both headaches and constipation.

Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)

Studies indicate that both irritable bowel syndrome, or IBS, and migraines together affect approximately 10%–20% of the population. For people diagnosed with IBS, 23%–53% percent report frequent headaches. Women are more likely than men to be affected by both conditions at the same time.

Stress also has an impact on the severity of both migraines and IBS. Researchers are exploring whether some people have a more hyperactive stress response than others that causes these conditions.

The nervous system may be the common link between IBS and migraine. Serotonin, a brain chemical known as a neurotransmitter, which is present in both the brain and the gut, seems to play a role in both IBS and migraines.

Fibromyalgia

Fibromyalgia and IBS are often comorbid conditions, meaning that they occur together.

Fibromyalgia is a condition that includes full-body aches and pain, tenderness to the touch in some areas, and headaches. Around 76% of people with fibromyalgia report chronic headaches.

IBS includes chronic constipation. Researchers have noticed that as the severity of constipation increases, the symptoms of fibromyalgia seem to worsen in people. Further, the low-grade inflammation that constipation causes may actually trigger fibromyalgia.

Celiac Disease

Celiac disease is a genetic autoimmune disorder that affects 1% of the population.

In celiac disease, when gluten (the protein found in wheat) is ingested, the body mounts an immune response. White blood cells, designed to fight foreign invading viruses and bacteria, begin attacking the small intestine by mistake. This can shrink or eliminate the villi, small fingerlike projections that absorb nutrients along the walls of the small intestine.

People with both celiac disease and non-celiac gluten sensitivity have many gastrointestinal symptoms, including chronic diarrhea, malabsorption of nutrients, and chronic constipation.

Chronic constipation is a risk factor for celiac disease. Researchers suggest that constipation occurs with celiac disease because of reduced intestinal movement due to inflammation in the mucosal lining of the intestines.

Mood Disorders

Studies have consistently linked mood and anxiety disorders with functional gastrointestinal (GI) disorders, which include persistent and recurring GI symptoms like constipation. The rate of patients with both mood and anxiety disorders and functional GI disorders is much higher than the general population, with rates as high as 50% in some cases.

Studies on constipation in adults show psychological factors have an impact. One study showed that constipated adults have higher psychological distress. Another study showed a 65% rate of common psychological diagnoses—including anxiety, depression, and panic disorders—among patients with constipation.

It appears that anxiety, depression, panic disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) often occur before an episode of constipation, or they may occur at the same time.

Another study showed that 24.6% of people with depression report having disordered bowel issues, with chronic constipation more common than in people without depression.

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), a disorder characterized by extreme fatigue lasting at least six months, often co-occurs with irritable bowel syndrome.

Researchers think there is a link between an altered gut microbiome, which is the system of microorganisms that occur naturally in the intestinal tract, and CFS. Several studies already indicate that the intestinal microbiome is abnormal in patients with chronic fatigue syndrome.

Other Possibilities

There are other issues that can cause both constipation and headaches, including:

  • Dehydration: Not drinking enough fluids can slow the absorption of water in the colon and create dry, difficult-to-pass stool.
  • Medications: Both opioids and antidepressants are medications that can cause constipation. Opioids are often prescribed after surgery, so speak with your healthcare provider if you are experiencing constipation following a procedure. Often a medical provider may prescribe or recommend a stool softener or laxative.
  • Sedentary lifestyle: People who have a sedentary job or generally aren't able to move much may experience constipation.
  • Highly processed foods: Eating low-fiber or highly processed foods may not provide enough fiber, causing constipation.

Treatment

Constipation Treatments

Treatment for constipation includes:

  • Consume more fiber: Getting more fiber into your diet through fresh fruits and a colorful array of vegetables can assist the bowel in reducing constipation. You can also consider fiber supplements. Be sure to discuss taking supplements with a healthcare provider beforehand to ensure they will not interfere with other medications.
  • Drink more water: Because water is absorbed by the colon, drinking sufficient amounts of water daily may improve constipation. Aim for 64 ounces per day, which is 8 cups. Setting a reminder can help you drink enough throughout the day.
  • Movement: Moving more can help with constipation. If you have difficultly exercising due to medical or other issues, start with small efforts. Walking to the mailbox, walking in place while watching television, or walking around a neighborhood, local track, or park can add additional, low-impact movement that may help with constipation.

Migraine Treatments

Treatment for migraines include:

  • Medications: Over-the-counter products like Excedrin Migraine or ibuprofen can help treat migraines. If these do not help relieve migraine pain, drugs like triptans may be prescribed.
  • Rest: Lying down in a dark, quiet room may help relieve migraine pain.
  • Managing stress triggers: Stress can be a trigger for migraines. Reducing stress or implementing coping skills to manage stress once it starts, can be helpful in managing migraines. Try deep breathing, meditation, and getting outside.
  • Cold packs: Sometimes applying a cold pack to the forehead can help with migraines.
  • Reducing caffeine: Blood vessels seem to be sensitive to caffeine. Consuming too much or changing the usual amount you consume can trigger migraines.

Talk to Your Doctor

If you’re having migraines and constipation at the same time, see a healthcare provider to determine their cause. Both headache and constipation are common symptoms that cause significant pain and discomfort, resulting in reduced function and diminished quality of life. Seek the guidance of a healthcare professional, especially if symptoms are getting worse or impacting your quality of life.

Summary

People may experience constipation and headaches or migraines at the same time. These conditions occurring simultaneously may be an indication of another health issue. Several conditions are linked to both headaches and constipation, including irritable bowel syndrome, fibromyalgia, and celiac disease.

A Word From Verywell

Both migraines and constipation are treatable conditions. Once you find the source of your triggers, you will find these conditions are easier to treat. If you are having severe symptoms of either constipation or migraines, seek medical attention for relief and to rule out more serious illnesses or diseases.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What does constipation feel like?

    Constipation may feel like a sense of fullness. You may have a feeling of needing to pass a bowel movement but are not able to. You may experience bloating and abdominal pain as well. Constipation can also cause you to lose your appetite and feel sluggish or lethargic, as though your energy is low.

  • How long does constipation last?

    If a person has fewer than three bowel movements per week, that is technically considered constipation. Constipation can last several days, but if it's coming close to a week and you still haven't had a bowel movement, it's important to seek medical attention. Your healthcare provider can prescribe laxatives, over-the-counter remedies, or other treatment recommendations based on your medical history. The longer a person is constipated, the riskier the condition becomes. Severe constipation can lead to an impacted bowel or worse, bowel obstruction, a serious issue requiring immediate medical attention.

  • How do you relieve constipation?

    There are several ways to relieve constipation. These can include increasing water intake and eating more fiber. Fruits like apples and peaches may be helpful in relieving constipation.

  • How long does a migraine last?

    A migraine can last anywhere from four hours to several days. If your pattern of migraines worsens, it's important to seek medical attention. You need to seek immediate, emergency medical attention if your migraine can be described as “the worst headache of my life," or if you are having vision problems, slurred speech, mental confusion, or seizures.

  • How do you relieve a migraine?

    One way to relieve migraines is with over-the-counter pain relievers such as Advil and Motrin, Aleve (naproxen sodium), or Excedrin Migraine. Other solutions include ice packs, resting in a dark and quiet room, applying pressure to your temples, and massaging your head and neck.

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