What causes a headache with nausea?
Other common causes include:
- the flu
- a cold
- food allergies
- excessive consumption of caffeine, nicotine, or alcohol
In this article, we explore the common causes of both headaches and nausea, as well as some underlying issues that are less common and more serious. We also discuss treatments and ways to prevent the symptoms.
A headache accompanied by nausea is a common symptom of a migraine.
Headaches are very common, and most people will experience one from time to time. Nausea sometimes accompanies a headache, and a number of health issues can cause this.
A migraine feels like a moderate or severe headache. The pain is often throbbing and located on one side of the head. During a migraine, a person may also experience:
- sensitivity to light or sound
Beyond migraines, common causes of both headaches and nausea include:
- cluster headaches
- the flu, stomach flu, or common cold
- excessive use of nicotine, caffeine, or alcohol
- stress, depression, or anxiety
- food allergies
- food poisoning
- strep throat
- premenstrual syndrome
Another common cause of a headache and nausea is low blood sugar, which can result from:
- not eating enough
- overuse of diabetes medications
- liver or kidney disease
- hormonal deficiencies
- drinking alcohol in excess
- certain medications
Other causes of concurrent headaches and nausea are more severe and may require urgent medical treatment. Understanding the full range of causes is essential, as it can enable a person to seek the right treatment in time.
More serious causes
Headaches and nausea are symptoms of the following severe conditions and injuries:
- kidney disease
- yellow fever
- hepatitis A
- traumatic brain injury
- skull fracture
- brain aneurysm
- brain tumor
Why do migraines cause nausea?
Lying in a dark, quiet room can help reduce migraine symptoms.
According to the findings of a 2013 review, over 60 percent of people with migraines also experience nausea and vomiting. However, the medical community is still unsure why migraines can cause nausea.
One explanation is that migraines affect nerve pathways that stimulate the part of the brain that controls vomiting. A 2014 study found that people experiencing migraines with nausea showed activity in the rostral dorsal medullary area of the brain, which likely controls nausea.
Another theory relates to serotonin, a chemical in the brain that affects:
- social behavior
- sex drive
According to a 2012 review, people with migraines sometimes have reduced serotonin levels, which may also lead to nausea.
Treatment for headaches and nausea depends on the cause. If the cause is a migraine, the following may help:
- taking pain-relieving medication
- lying in a quiet, dark room
- laying a warm cloth on the forehead
- putting a cold compress on the back of the neck
- trying complementary treatments, such as aromatherapy or acupuncture
- taking anti-nausea medication
- getting fresh air
- sticking to bland foods and small portions
When to see a doctor
Anyone who has persistent headaches should see a doctor.
If a person has a severe, sudden headache and no history of migraines, they should speak with a doctor.
See a doctor right away if a headache and nausea follow a blow to the head.
Also, seek medical attention if headaches grow worse over time or accompany any of the following symptoms:
- loss of consciousness
- blurred vision
- a fever
- trouble speaking
- feeling dizzy or confused
- having a stiff neck
- vomiting that occurs sporadically for more than 1 day
- not urinating for more than 8 hours
It may not always be possible to prevent headaches and nausea. However, the following may help:
- stopping smoking
- reducing caffeine and alcohol intakes
- reducing the effects of stress through mindfulness, meditation, or yoga
- drinking plenty of water
- avoiding foods that have previously triggered a migraine
- eating a healthful, balanced diet
- practicing good hygiene to avoid colds, the flu, or the stomach flu
- taking plenty of breaks from looking at screens
- getting enough exercise
Migraines are the most common cause of headaches that occur with nausea. Dehydration and low blood sugar are also frequently responsible.
Some causes are more serious. Several affect the brain, such as meningitis, brain aneurysms, and tumors. These issues typically feature additional symptoms.
Anyone who is worried or unsure about the cause of their headaches and nausea should speak with a doctor.