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Why does throwing up relieve migraines?

Medically reviewed by Sally Chao, MD. Last updated on Nov 17, 2021.

Official answer

by Drugs.com

For many, vomiting can help relieve migraine symptoms, even stopping the headache altogether. Research suggests that vomiting stops migraines by alleviating gastric stasis (or gastroparesis), the delayed gastric emptying that causes stomach upset to occur over the course of a migraine.

Overall, researchers are still trying to tease out the gut-brain connection and other possible reasons why vomiting relieves migraines for some people.

People who experience migraine headaches often have symptoms of nausea and vomiting. These symptoms usually happen during the prodrome, or pre-headache phase of an attack that occurs hours to days preceding a migraine, as well as during the headache phase itself. About 2 out of 3 migraine patients experience vomiting during their migraine.

Migraine is a neurological disorder affecting the brain and central nervous system; though doctors aren’t sure of the exact mechanism behind the headaches, they do know that a migraine activates the areas of the brain that are responsible for sensitivity to light and sound and that cause nausea. Communication between the brain and the gut, controlled by the gut-brain axis, is thought to play a large role in the generation of nausea and vomiting.

References
  1. U.S. National Library of Medicine MedlinePlus. Migraine. August 31, 2021. Available at: https://medlineplus.gov/migraine.html. [Accessed October 11, 2021].
  2. American Migraine Foundation (AMF). Timeline of a Migraine Attack. January 18, 2018. Available at: https://americanmigrainefoundation.org/resource-library/timeline-migraine-attack/. [Accessed October 11, 2021].
  3. Láinez M, García-Casado A, Gascón, F. Optimal management of severe nausea and vomiting in migraine: improving patient outcomes. Patient Relat Outcome Meas., 11 October 2013; 4: 61-73. https://dx.doi.org/10.2147%2FPROM.S31392.
  4. Parkman, H. Migraine and Gastroparesis from a Gastroenterologist’s Perspective. Headache: The Journal of Head and Face Pain, 30 May 2012; Vol 52, Iss 51. https://doi.org/10.1111/head.12112.
  5. Dongdong Chai, Hong Jiang, Qifang Li. Induced Vomiting: A Therapeutic Option. Int J Clin Exp Med. 2016. ISSN: 1940-5901. http://www.ijcem.com/files/ijcem0029029.pdf.
  6. Zhong W, Shahbaz O, Teskey G, et al. Mechanisms of Nausea and Vomiting: Current Knowledge and Recent Advances in Intracellular Emetic Signaling Systems. Int J Mol Sci. 28 May 2021; 22(11):5797. https://dx.doi.org/10.3390%2Fijms22115797.

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