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Coping with Nausea From A Migraine

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Updated July 06, 2012

Coping with Nausea From A Migraine
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There's no doubt about it -- the pain associated with a migraine can be debilitating. And for many migraine sufferers, the nausea that accompanies that pain can be equally bothersome. Though scientists are not exactly sure why so many migraines are accompanied by stomach problems, it's pretty clear that those queasy symptoms can wreak havoc on your life if you don't take steps to control them.

Why Am I Experiencing Nausea With My Migraines?

While trying to understand the reason why your migraine headaches are accompanied by stomach problems is a logical coping strategy, the unfortunate truth is that we just don't know enough about what causes migraine-related nausea to give a clear answer. The general belief is that migraines occur when nerves near the base of our brain signal the blood vessels on the surface of the brain to swell. Some studies have shown that the change in estrogen levels contribute to those brain signals, which might explain why more women than men suffer from migraines. Other studies have shown that serotonin (a chemical in the brain that has been linked to motion sickness) may also play a role and could explain why a great percentage of migraine sufferers also experience seasickness.

Are There Treatments That Can Help Me Cope With Nausea?

The good news is that there are several different treatment options, and coping strategies that can help you deal with migraine-related nausea.

When you're dealing with a bout of nausea, or feel a spell coming on, you'll probably want quick symptom relief. Short term-solutions include:

  • Loosening your clothes and taking deep slow breaths
  • Applying a warm wet cloth to your head and neck (cold water could make the migraine worse)
  • Opening a window or stepping outside to get fresh air
  • Eating small quantities of bland foods and avoiding foods with strong odors
  • Without drinking too much at once, staying hydrated by sipping water, tea or clear broth
  • After managing your acute symptoms, developing long-term coping strategies are critical.

    Change your lifestyle. Your neurologist may put you on a plan that includes migraine trigger avoidance. Through a process of trial-and-error you and she may be able to identify environmental factors that include diet issues, physical challenges, psychological problems and a host of other stimuli that may trigger your migraine. For example, you may be asked to keep a log that helps to identify certain triggers:

  • Do your symptoms come on after you eat a specific kind of food?
  • Are your symptoms appearing after you exert yourself during a physical activity?
  • Was there a specific life event or emotional stressor that coincided with your symptoms?

    During subsequent visits, your neurologist may help you decide on ways you can modify some of the symptom triggers that are specific to your lifestyle.

    There are also some general lifestyle changes that you can employ to combat the migraines that accompany nausea. For example, taking steps to reduce your stress levels can help reduce the frequency of an attack. In addition, changing your habits can also make a difference; quit smoking, exercise daily, eat a healthy diet and limit your intake of some of the substances that commonly trigger migraines such as chocolate, cheese and alcohol.

    Try anti-nausea medication. Treating a migraine usually means that the nausea symptoms associated with it will also be treated. However, in some instances your doctor may suggest medications with a stronger anti-nausea profile, thereby putting more focus on your stomach problems. Popular medication choices include: Phenergan (promethazine), Thorazine (chlorpromazine), Comprazine (prochlorperazine), Tigan (trimethobenzamide) and Reglan (metoclopramide).

    Because your nausea may mean that you're having trouble keeping things down, taking a standard pill may not be the best option for you. Fortunately, most of these drugs are available in various forms, including easily dissolvable pills, syrups, suppositories, and injections. Work with your doctor to find the best option for you.

    Explore alternative therapies. Though medical management has been effective for lots of migraine sufferers, alternative therapies might also prove beneficial. Some patients extol the power of ginger in helping to reduce nausea. You might try peeling a raw slice from a ginger root, sucking on a piece of ginger candy, or making a cup of ginger tea. Other suggestions include consuming a little sugar, or sipping on an energy drink.

    Keep in mind that while many vitamin and supplement providers make claims to treat migraine-induced nausea, not all commercially available treatments are approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). In addition, while some patients in states that have legalized medical marijuana report nausea relief from cannabis consumption, consuming an illicit substance in other states, for any reason, is strictly prohibited.

    Because there are important safety concerns to consider when trying different therapies, it's critical to check with your doctor before actually trying an alternative treatment.

    Let it out. Allowing yourself to vomit can provide some relief during a nauseous episode. Many patients report feeling drastically better after purging.

    Remember, it's key that you maintain regular contact with a neurologist regarding your migraines and any associated nausea. She will be able to work with you to develop and maintain a comprehensive treatment plan that can help you deal with your condition.

    Sources

    The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. Migraine Information. Accessed on January 2012.

    The American Migraine Foundation. About Migraine. Accessed on January 2012.

    Sprenger T, Goadsby PJ. Migraine pathogenesis and state of pharmacological treatment options. BMC Med. 2009 Nov 16;7:71.

    Cuomo-Granston A, Drummond PD. Migraine and motion sickness: what is the link? Prog Neurobiol. 2010 Aug;91(4):300-12.

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