Besides the tell-tale headache, migraine attacks can bring a host of other painful and uncomfortable symptoms, such as dizziness, vertigo, numbness, and blurred vision. Not to mention the nausea many people experience at some point during a migraine.
For some, a wave of nausea is a sign that their episode is about to begin or end, but for others it’s just another uncomfortable symptom that comes along with a migraine attack.
Feeling this way is never fun, especially on top of a severe headache and other migraine symptoms. If you’re dealing with it, there are remedies available to help you control your symptoms. The first step toward finding a solution is to understand how nausea shows up in your migraine attacks.
Is nausea a sign of a migraine?
Yes, nausea is a common symptom of migraine, but it can look different for everyone.
For example, according to Cove Medical Director and migraine expert Dr. Sara Crystal, “some people experience nausea as a prodromal symptom, which precedes the migraine pain.” (The “prodrome” is the earliest stage of a migraine attack that occurs hours or days before most symptoms strike.)
In addition to nausea, prodromal symptoms could also include diarrhea, constipation, difficulty concentrating, stiff neck and shoulders, or an aura.
How long does the migraine nausea last?
Unfortunately, there’s no clear answer here. Because the migraine symptoms and attack timeline vary so much from person to person, it’s hard to predict when migraine-related nausea will clear up for you.
Your nausea might go away once the headache starts, but it could also last throughout the migraine or only appear when the attack is about to end. (No fun, any way you slice it.)
How much migraine nausea is normal?
Since migraine nausea can look so different from person to person, it might be hard to tell if what you’re going through is “normal.”
If you’re in status migrainosis, a condition in which you get stuck in a “headache cycle,” you could have nausea and vomiting for days, says Dr. Crystal. In that case, you may need help from your doctor to break the cycle.
According to Dr. Crystal, if your nausea is so bad you can’t keep liquids down there is a risk for dehydration. In that case, it’s time to reach out to your doctor ASAP.
That said, it’s always a good idea to ask your doctor for help with your migraine symptoms, no matter how severe.
What can I take for migraine nausea?
If you’re dealing with nausea, the good news is that there are a lot of different treatments available including prescription medications as well as over-the-counter treatments. In addition, several supplements have been shown to have a real impact on nausea and there’s also promising data to back up alternative treatments.
That said, while there are plenty of scientific studies on alleviating nausea, there has not been extensive research on migraine nausea in particular. So unfortunately, you may need to go through a little trial and error to find a solution that works for you.
It can all be a bit overwhelming to sort through, especially if you’re looking for answers while dealing with a migraine. You probably don’t want to spend weeks testing options that might not do anything at all. To make it easier for you to find something that works, we rounded up the top treatments:
The simplest place to start might be an anti-nausea drug. With a prescription from your doctor, you can get ann antiemetic medication targeted specifically at nausea.
If your stomach is so upset you can’t swallow a pill or keep it down, you might still be able to take medication. “Treating the migraine with non-oral triptans, such as nasal sprays or injections, can help the nausea,” in addition to the migraine pain, says Dr. Crystal. She adds, “For very severe nausea and vomiting, prescription antiemetic suppositories are sometimes prescribed.”
If you typed “home remedies for nausea” into your browser, you probably noticed lots of advice to try ginger tea or supplements to calm your stomach. According to Dr. Crystal, humans have been using ginger as a nausea treatment for over 2,000 years. While scientific studies have shown conflicting evidence, “most studies conclude that there can be some benefit, with no risk.” In other words, brewing a cup of ginger tea when you feel nauseous could be worth a try.
CBD is another option for treating the nausea that comes along with your migraines. “There is good evidence that CBD can help treat nausea,” says Dr. Crystal, “though most studies are focused on chemotherapy-induced nausea.” You can talk to your doctor about what forms of CBD might help.
Herbs may help as well, though there has been little research on how they work for nausea with migraines. Fennel (as an oral supplement) in particular was proven to treat menstrual symptoms in adolescents, including weakness and nausea.
You might be familiar with acupuncture, a practice in Chinese medicine that involves placing small needles in particular points around your body to treat many different conditions.
Acupressure is similar, except there are no needles involved—good news if the idea of being stuck with little needles puts you off!
According to Dr. Crystal, applying continued pressure to a spot on your wrist known as “the PC-6 point” has been found to be helpful for treating migraine-associated nausea. To make your life a little bit easier, you can purchase a Sea-Band, a device that puts pressure right on that spot. A promising study showed that the Sea-Band eased nausea in female migraine patients.
A breathing technique known as paced breathing, or paced diaphragmatic breathing (PDB), is a method used to treat a variety of ailments. The Mayo Clinic says, “The goal of paced breathing is to reduce the stress chemicals your brain produces and facilitate a relaxation response.”
To do it right, you intentionally deepen and lengthen your breathing, activating your diaphragm muscles in the process. What that means in the simplest terms is that instead of taking in the average 12 to 14 breaths per minute, you’ll take five to seven.
One study showed that paced breathing may be helpful at counteracting nausea associated with motion sickness in particular.
What does motion sickness have to do with migraine? Dr. Crystal notes that “many people with migraine are more susceptible to motion sickness, and it often triggers migraine.”
For other treatments, there is little to no evidence specifically on migraine nausea. But despite the lack of research, these might be worth trying because there’s very little rosk associate with them. And, even if they don’t prevent your nausea, they could prove relaxing in general:
- Reducing muscle tension through [progressive muscle relaxation], or PMR
- Trying aromatherapy, specifically with ginger
- Getting a massage, especially for psychological well-being
What preventive treatments are there for migraine nausea?
Just like with migraines in general, some nausea treatments can fight off your symptoms during an attack, and others are more preventive measures you need to incorporate into your lifestyle. Here are a few things you can try to keep migraine nausea from starting in the first place.
Take a Vitamin B6 supplement
Vitamin B6 may work against nausea. Dr. Crystal notes though that while it is “effective at reducing pregnancy-related nausea,” it has not been studied for migraines specifically.
Take a magnesium supplement
Migraine sufferers have been found to be particularly deficient in the mineral magnesium, which can lead to symptoms like fatigue, lack of appetite, and—you guessed it—nausea. That may be one reason that taking a magnesium supplement to treat migraine, can help with the accompanying nausea as well.
Dr. Crystal recommends increasing magnesium intake through supplements and magnesium-rich foods, such as dairy products like milk and yogurt, fortified foods like breakfast cereals, leafy green vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds.
Eat a Preventive Diet
If you’ve got an upset stomach, the idea of eating specific foods to deal with it probably isn’t very appealing. Chances are you won’t want to eat anything until it passes. But your overall diet can still have a preventive effect.
Some foods can trigger migraines, such as the nitrates that appear in meat products, and tyramine, which shows up in aged cheeses and red wine. For that reason, it’s important to learn what foods trigger your attacks, since that could help you avoid the related nausea as well.
It’s not just about cutting foods out though. You can also incorporate certain things into your diet to help prevent migraines (and, by default, the nausea that crops up with it). Just like magnesium supplements can help prevent migraine attacks, incorporating those same foods into your diet may work preventively. Avocados, dried apricots, almonds, cashews, and brown rice are particularly high in magnesium and relatively simple to add to your diet.
There’s no perfect diet, since these triggers are different from person to person. Instead, track your migraine patterns to learn what foods could be causing your migraines and any nausea that comes along with it. To help you get started, take a look at this list of “migraine safe foods” The Association of Migraine Disorders put together.
Dealing with nausea is never pleasant, especially if you’re also suffering through other migraine symptoms. If one of these treatment methods doesn’t work, keep trying—sometimes instead of a single solution, a combination of different treatments can work for you. Check out our Migraine and Headache Awareness Month tips for more help dealing with your non-headache migraine symptoms.
The information provided in this article is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. You should not rely upon the content provided in this article for specific medical advice. If you have any questions or concerns, please talk to your doctor.
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