Headaches -> vomit?
August 3, 2007 10:40 PM   Subscribe

Why do I throw up every time I get a headache?

(I'm going to see a real doctor, but I was wondering if anyone had any insight or personal experience.)

Occasionally, just like everyone else, I'll get a headache, usually from something like heat or mild dehydration. I don't think they're more frequent than other people's headaches, but they bother me much more than they seem to bother most people. I can tell, objectively, that these aren't especially painful headaches, but for some reason, I can't bear them. I never have been able to. I find it impossible to concentrate on anything else but the pain, no matter how mild it is.

Almost every time this happens, it plays out like this: I develop a mild headache, I can't stop thinking about it, and it gradually gets worse. I then become nauseous, and eventually I throw up. Afterwards, the pain almost always seems lessened, and than it usually goes away fairly quickly. It doesn't seem to matter what I've eaten, and I don't think the food has anything to do with it. The nausea never shows up until the headache is well-established.

Could it be, as I suspect, just a psychological thing, where I'm convincing myself that if I do a mildly unpleasant thing (vomiting), I can end my extremely unpleasant headache? I think I may have gotten that idea somewhere as a child, and it just got ingrained in me. Is that even plausible? If not, what could possibly be causing this? And how can I stop it from happening?
posted by showbiz_liz to Health & Fitness (25 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Vomiting can happen with migraines.
posted by scody at 10:51 PM on August 3, 2007 [1 favorite]

Those definitely sound like migraine symptoms.
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 10:54 PM on August 3, 2007

If I get a combo of being hot, tired, stressed, then that can happen to me, and throwing up makes me feel better. I figured it was a migraine thing.
posted by slightlybewildered at 10:55 PM on August 3, 2007

Growing up, whenever I got sick, I always got sick to my stomach, regardless of the other symptoms. It just seemed to be my body's preferred response to illness. It's less now, but if i get seriously stressed or if I get a bad headache, I always get queasy.

On the other hand, it sounds completely logical that it could a psychological thing that you taught yourself. My mother used to give me mint lifesavers to calm my stomach when I would get car sick. Now, I find that mint flavored medicine works better than other flavors - I start to feel better sooner that it could really take effect.

By the way, Emetrol (phosphated sugar syrup) is really good for an upset stomach if you want to try to avoid throwing up.
posted by metahawk at 11:04 PM on August 3, 2007 [1 favorite]

Stimulation of your vagus nerve is a possibility for the vomiting.

I sometimes vomit uncontrollably when I get migraines... at that point, I have to go to the ER because I can't keep anything down. If I have enough warning (I usually get visual artifacts 10-15 minutes before the migraine), I can get down a Vicodin and a Compazine.

Do you have any sort-of blind spots in your vision, where the spot isn't dark, but light instead? Or do you get sparkly lightning bolts in your vision? Sensitivity to light or noise?

Doc just put me on Relpax - it's a godsend, although I still have Vicodin around just in case, since I *just* started using the Relpax. If I start vomiting that up, they'll probably try me on that inhalable Imitrex.
posted by IndigoRain at 11:04 PM on August 3, 2007 [1 favorite]

Whoops, should have previewed... regarding metahawk's suggestion, peppermint has an anti-nausea effect.
posted by IndigoRain at 11:05 PM on August 3, 2007

When I was a kid, this happened to me too. About once a month I'd get a really bad headache and eventually I'd throw up a few hours later.
posted by mathowie at 11:09 PM on August 3, 2007

Are you experiencing any other symptoms? Blurred vision, disorientation, any sort of neurological abnormality?

You most likely are just among those that have migraines on random occasion, but you may see if your insurance will cover for you to get a MRI done. I'm not suggesting it is anything serious, but vomiting accompanied with headaches is also sometimes characteristic of brain tumors, so it's worth doing a scan so you can catch anything early.
posted by skwillz at 11:11 PM on August 3, 2007

I'll jump on the migraine bandwagon. Sounds like classic symptoms.
posted by The Deej at 11:29 PM on August 3, 2007

Migraine. I get pukey headaches about once a month, with a grand curled-up-crying-and-shivering-in-the-dark pounder at least once a year. Neurologist told me it was an effect of cranial vasoconstriction and prescribed Sibelium, a "calcium channel blocker." That helped, but that was seven years ago in another country and I haven't seen another doctor about it since. I just take OTC migraine pills (aspirin, acetaminophen, caffeine -- a powerful vasodilator) at the first sign of migraine symptoms and hope for the best. Usually works.
posted by brownpau at 11:51 PM on August 3, 2007 [1 favorite]

I get these occasionally, including the vomiting. Several docs have said they're not migraines but cluster headaches.

Found through experimentation many years ago that a combination of ibuprofen and Alka-Seltzer will usually head them off.
posted by Expat at 11:52 PM on August 3, 2007 [1 favorite]

When you say it doesn't matter what you've eaten, are you looking at foods you've eaten in the past 24 hours? There can be a significant delay between eating a migraine-trigger food (or having any other trigger event) and the actual onset of a migraine.

I didn't know they still made Emetrol, but I'd recommend it. I had migraines so often as a kid that today, 20 years after my last spoonful, I can still vividly remember that weird minty taste.
posted by stefanie at 11:52 PM on August 3, 2007

I've also experienced migraines that result in vomiting, but they always come accompanied by visual anomalies.
posted by ludwig_van at 12:12 AM on August 4, 2007

Trying a little generic dramamine couldn't hurt. I had some prescribed to me for the nausea I used to get associated from taking BCPs. Yakking up your birth control is no fun.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 12:47 AM on August 4, 2007

Nthing migraine.

I just take OTC migraine pills (aspirin, acetaminophen, caffeine -- a powerful vasodilator) at the first sign of migraine symptoms and hope for the best. Usually works.
posted by brownpau at 11:51 PM on August 3 [+] [!]

Brownpau (and the OP), have you tried Imigran? It's OTC in Britian, so you can order it online without a prescription. That stuff you mentioned doesn't touch my migraines.
posted by Violet Hour at 2:06 AM on August 4, 2007 [2 favorites]

Yes, migraines are the likely culprit.

Take comfort in the fact that the vomiting relieves the headache. For many people, the first bout of vomiting turns into a cycle, with several hours -- or a full day -- of on/off vomiting before the headache and nausea abate. You're lucky.

I'm not advocating illegal drugs, but if you live in a country with relaxed cannabis laws, or are able to obtain a prescription, you might look into medical marijuana for the nausea portion of the migraine. Works wonders.
posted by Gordion Knott at 3:26 AM on August 4, 2007

It does sound like migraine.

As you asked for personal experiences: I started having migraines this last year, hormonally triggered ones. At least I have a general idea of when to expect them, but the vomiting is so debilitating.

As there's nothing I can do to avoid my migraine trigger, my doc gave me anti-nausea meds which really do help. As one can't swallow pills when vomiting, one has to use the suppository form. This is not the most pleasant thing I know of, but it's much more comfortable than all the vomiting.

The 'visual anomalies' symptom does not happen for everyone. I only know it's a migraine when the pain wraps around the back of my head.
posted by tomboko at 6:30 AM on August 4, 2007

Like many others here, I got migraines and vomited when younger. I seemed to grow out of the vomiting thing. I don't think it is psychological. However, migraine management is -- at some level -- psychological. You need to learn to spot the symptoms of an on-coming migraine and deal with it. Even though I really don't like medication, when I suspect I have a migraine coming, I deal with it; take advil or whatever well *before* it gets full blown. I am more careful to take care of myself and not get dehydrated (well, I try anyway). If it creeps up a bit further, I go to a dark room (I have ultra-heavy curtains in my bedroom for just this purpose) and lie down and relax. Learning to relax as the headache gets worse is important and really helps. It can stop the progression. Hopefully, if it is migraines, your doctor won't just toss you out with some pills but will help you learn to manage and deal with them.
posted by Bovine Love at 7:19 AM on August 4, 2007

I was thinking migraines, too, until I read this line:

Afterwards, the pain almost always seems lessened, and than it usually goes away fairly quickly.

That certainly doesn't jibe with my experience. I've had migraines since I was 10 (I'm 34 now), with quite a few that have made me vomit, and without exception the vomiting has either not affected the pain or, in most cases, made it worse.

That doesn't mean they're not migraines, of course. You didn't mention where the pain is: Does it seem to always be on just one side of your head?
posted by cerebus19 at 8:27 AM on August 4, 2007

Have you had this all your life?

You need to see a doctor as soon as possible.
posted by gramcracker at 9:02 AM on August 4, 2007

I've had migraines since I was 10 (I'm 34 now), with quite a few that have made me vomit, and without exception the vomiting has either not affected the pain or, in most cases, made it worse.

I think it just goes to show that everyone's experience can be a little different on this score. I don't always throw up when I have a migraine, but when I do, it almost always signals that the worst is soon to be over.
posted by scody at 10:31 AM on August 4, 2007

I get very similar headaches to yours, except that I am able to ignore that I have a mild headache. I have no idea what is behind this. If you have had this since you were a child, it's probably not about to kill you off as some of the previous answers seem to imply.
posted by yohko at 10:39 AM on August 4, 2007

It took me years of going through exactly what you describe before a friend suggested they might be migraines. Tylenol or Advil alone never did anything for them. Another friend recommended Excedrin Migraine, and now I swear by it. When I start to feel a headache coming on, I just take one. It doesn't make the headache go away immediately, but it dulls the pain. Within 1-2 hours it dissolves away abruptly, and I no longer end up vomiting.
posted by autojack at 12:46 PM on August 4, 2007

I used to get headaches such as these when I was younger, and they were caused by heat, lack of ventilation, stress, eyestrain, certain foods such as cheese or chocolate, or other factors. Nausea would follow but throwing up cured the headache within moments. I eventually learned that the way to stop these headaches was to not ignore them, and instead take two strong Excedrin the moment mild pain became noticeable. This would stop the headache before it got any worse.
posted by lsemel at 10:18 PM on August 5, 2007 [1 favorite]

I'd agree with the migraine suggestion. When I first started getting them I had no idea that's what they were. Just really bad headaches and I could keep functioning. Then the added symptom of vomiting started, and like you, that almost simultaneously relieved it.

They have gotten progressively worse to the point now that it's a day of dry heaves and I feel like the soles of my feet are going to come up next. The nausea, along with the wish to just rip off the top of my head to relieve the pain is a nightmare. But, no visual anomolies. As an aside: My brother has the visual migraines and no nausea.

There are all kinds of treatment and some do work. I've not found one for me so far, but I didn't seek treatment until years into the cycle when they'd become horrible. Personally, I'd suggest you seek treatment while they aren't to that stage, because I wonder if it's more difficult to treat now that I waited so long. (that thought based on nothing but my own stupid opinion.)
posted by mightshould at 6:09 AM on August 6, 2007

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