This article is objectively based on relevant scientific literature, written by experienced medical writers, and fact-checked by a team of degreed medical experts.
Our team of registered dietitian nutritionists and licensed medical professionals seek to remain objective and unbiased while preserving the integrity of any scientific debate.
The articles contain evidence-based references from approved scientific sites. The numbers* in parentheses (*1,2,3) will take you to clickable links to our reputable sources.
Headache & Diarrhea: The Connection Between Headache & Diarrhea In 2023
Almost all healthcare providers will advocate for probiotics for a healthy gut. But what if your diarrhea only occurs when your head is pounding?
Could there be a relationship between the two that you do not understand yet?
The relationship between two seemingly disparate symptoms often riddles patients and professionals in medicine. One such enigmatic connection lies between headaches and diarrhea.
From headache and diarrhea symptoms, we delve into the depth of clinical implications and scientific findings that shed light on this intriguing correlation. Let’s get this show on the road.
Can Diarrhea Cause Headaches?
Yes, emerging research suggests that diarrhea and headaches might be linked. However, the exact connection remains an enigma. Migraine headache attacks often involve gastrointestinal symptoms like diarrhea, hinting at potential ties between these discomforts.
Possible triggers include food allergies, stress, and caffeine withdrawal. Unraveling the precise relationship could lead to enhanced understanding and targeted treatments if you are experiencing both symptoms.
The Link Between Headache And Diarrhea
The possible link between migraine and diarrhea raises intriguing medical inquiries. On their own, headaches and diarrhea have several sources. But migraine headaches accompanied by diarrhea highlight a potential link. So, what is that link?
While the exact cause remains elusive, specific migraine triggers like certain foods, stress, and caffeine withdrawal appear influential. Migraine symptoms share pathways, possibly involving blood vessels and neurological mechanisms.
Clinical studies suggest that gastrointestinal disorders like irritable bowel syndrome and inflammatory bowel syndrome like Crohn’s disease may have both as symptoms. Still, the overlap between migraine episodes and digestive disturbances necessitates more research.
The solution then remains to examine the prodrome phase, risk factors, and triggers. The exact link may gradually emerge through closer examination. To get to the root cause, doctors use blood tests and physical exams for the differential diagnosis.
Get Blown Away By Expert-Crafted Formula
Learn More About Colon Broom – one of the quality supplements promoting regular bowel movements, alleviates bloating, and supports healthy cholesterol levels.
Common Causes Of Headache
Since there are several types of headaches, numerous causes exist. The main categories are primary, secondary, and cranial neuropathies. Primary headaches occur independently. Secondary headaches may be a symptom of underlying conditions like infections or trauma. Cranial neuropathies arise when the nerves in the head are injured or under pressure.
Here is a list of the types of headaches you may experience, plus their potential cause.
- Migraine headaches manifest as intense, pulsating pain, often on one side of the head, accompanied by sensitivity to light, sound, and sometimes odors. Headache, diarrhea, abdominal pain, nausea, fatigue, and visual changes can precede the migraine attack.
- Tension-type headaches manifest as a dull, aching pain with a sensation that feels like a tight band tied around the head. Tension-type headaches can lead to discomfort on both sides of the head and the back of the neck.
- Cluster headaches are intense, excruciating pain usually focused around one eye. These headaches occur in clusters or cycles and are often severe, with burning or piercing sensations. They can also cause restlessness and nasal congestion on the affected side.
The above headaches are often a result of a blend of a few factors. Some causes are genetics, stress, and hormonal imbalances. Certain foods, lack of sleep, photosensitivity, loud noises, and environmental factors are also possible causes of primary headaches, especially migraine headaches.
- Sinus headaches manifest as deep, frequent pain around the forehead, cheekbones, and nose bridge. Sinus discomforts like congestion and facial pressure are the accompanying common symptoms.
- Cervicogenic headaches are painful pulsing neck pain that moves to the head. Poor posture, neck injuries, or tense muscles can contribute to these headaches.
- Rebound headaches or medication overuse headaches are frequent headaches that occur because of the overuse of pain-relief medications. These headaches can worsen with medication or drug withdrawal.
- Hormone headaches or menstrual migraines are migraine-like headaches concerning hormonal fluctuations during the menstrual cycle. They often accompany other menstrual symptoms like nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea for a week.
- Exertional headaches, often throbbing or pulsating during or after physical activity. They can be caused by strenuous exercise or activities that increase intracranial pressure.
Infections, head injuries, drug usage, sinusitis, dental problems, hormonal shifts, or vascular abnormalities are examples of underlying migraine triggers. Secondary headaches are signs of a more severe condition requiring specialized medical care.
These tertiary headaches result from damage to cranial nerves, disrupting their normal functioning. Headaches of such nature vary, often showing localized pain around the inflicted region. It may also present as radiating pain you feel in multiple places on your face.
Causes include inflammation, pressure, trauma, infections, or underlying medical conditions.
Other factors that may cause headaches are dehydration or eye problems. Loss of water and fluid imbalances may cause headaches. Digestive and kidney diseases can be underlying fluid imbalances in the body.
Common Causes Of Diarrhea
When we shift the focus to digestive health, diarrhea has as many causes as headaches. The only way to determine the cause is usually through medical tests to eliminate all the possible causes. Some possible causes doctors will eliminate are:
- Gastrointestinal infections: Bacterial, viral, or parasitic infections in the digestive tract brought on by bacteria, viruses, or parasites can cause severe diarrhea and stomach pain. Food and water contamination are frequent sources.
- Food allergies and sensitivities: Eating foods that the body cannot digest properly can result in nausea and diarrhea after eating. Gluten and lactose intolerance are both linked to an increased risk of diarrhea.
- Irritable bowel syndrome: Symptoms of this chronic condition typically include diarrhea and stomach pain. Stress may cause the outbursts to worsen.
- Medicine side effects: Some over-the-counter medicines, particularly antibiotics, might cause stomach upset due to the equilibrium disruption of the gut microbiota.
- IBD, or inflammatory bowel disease: Chronic diarrhea can be brought on by inflammatory bowel illnesses like Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.
- Consuming excess artificial sweeteners: Sorbitol and mannitol are two common sugar substitutes that can have a laxative effect and cause diarrhea.
- Travelers’ diarrhea: You could develop acute diarrhea if you ingest contaminated food and water in unfamiliar areas.
Diarrhea Treatments And Prevention
Here are some ways to ease diarrhea for holistic healing:
- Hydration and fluid replacement: Excessive fluid loss due to diarrhea can lead to dehydration. To counter this, take plenty of fluids to restore electrolyte balance. Drink plenty of water, fresh juices, and oral hydrating salts or solutions.
- Dietary modifications: Steer clear of common triggers like excessive caffeine and artificial sweeteners to prevent diarrhea and headache episodes. Instead, incorporate probiotic foods, brain and gut-healing superfoods that easily digest to aid gut health. Those special foods can also protect you from chronic constipation and other symptoms of an unhealthy microbiome. You may also consider supplements for reinforced prevention.
- Medications: In some cases, antidiarrheal medications can provide immediate relief. However, a healthcare professional should guide the use of these medications.
- Appropriately treat underlying conditions: When you treat the root cause, like infections or digestive disorders, or autoimmune diseases affecting the gastrointestinal system like celiac disease, you effectively address chronic or severe diarrhea.
- Hand and food hygiene: Frequently wash your hands to minimize the contamination of food and water by viruses, bacteria, and parasites. On food hygiene, be keen on what you consume, wash fruits and veggies thoroughly, and cook foods fully.
In the intricate interplay of health, the enigma of the connection between migraines and diarrhea unfolds. The quest for understanding persists as we’ve looked into potential triggers, shared mechanisms, and clinical implications.
Scientists are still exploring the shared pathways. Still, the available research on the possible triggers points to genetic influences, health conditions, environmental factors, and diet.
When you sort out the underlying causes and adopt preventive measures, you find relief from the discomfort.
Frequently Asked Questions
Diarrhea is a gastrointestinal problem characterized by loose, watery stools that occurs more frequently than usual. It can result from infections, food sensitivities, medications, or underlying gastrointestinal disorders that could lead to bloody stools.
The duration of diarrhea varies. Acute cases typically last a few days and often resolve on their own. If diarrhea persists beyond a week, it becomes chronic, and you must consult a healthcare professional.
A complicated relationship exists between migraines and gastrointestinal problems, including diarrhea. Individual responses differ but shared brain pathways and triggers might play a role. It is best to seek medical advice.
Typically, headaches don’t immediately induce diarrhea. However, some illnesses, such as migraines, may have common causes or pathways that result in simultaneous symptoms, such as diarrhea and headaches.
+ 27 sources
Health Canal avoids using tertiary references. We have strict sourcing guidelines and rely on peer-reviewed studies, academic researches from medical associations and institutions. To ensure the accuracy of articles in Health Canal, you can read more about the editorial process here
- Rizzoli, P. and Mullally, W.J. (2018). Headache. The American Journal of Medicine, [online] 131(1), pp.17–24. doi:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.amjmed.2017.09.005.
- Aleksandra Sokic-Milutinovic, Aleksandra Pavlovic-Markovic, Ratko Tomasevic and Lukic, S. (2021). Diarrhea as a Clinical Challenge: General Practitioner Approach. Digestive Diseases, [online] 40(3), pp.282–289. doi:https://doi.org/10.1159/000517111.
- Kawashima, K., Nobuhiko Fukuba, Uemura, Y., Ota, K., Hideaki Kazumori, Hiroki Sonoyama, Oka, A., Tada, Y., Mishima, Y., Oshima, N., Yuki, T., Katsube, T., Kinoshita, Y. and Ishihara, S. (2020). Comorbid irritable bowel syndrome symptoms and headache have greater association with anxiety than depression. Medicine, [online] 99(47), pp.e23059–e23059. doi:https://doi.org/10.1097/md.0000000000023059.
- Ülker Anadol Kelleci, Turan Calhan, Sahin, A., Kahraman, R., Kamil Ozdil, H. Mehmet Sökmen and Yalcin, D. (2016). The Prevalence of Headache in Crohn’s Disease: Single-Center Experience. Gastroenterology Research and Practice, [online] 2016, pp.1–6. doi:https://doi.org/10.1155/2016/6474651.
- Min, V., Lai Lai Ang, Soon, D., Jia, J. and Weng, V. (2018). The adult patient with headache. Singapore Medical Journal, [online] 59(8), pp.399–406. doi:https://doi.org/10.11622/smedj.2018094.
- Edvinsson, J., Alessandro Viganò, Alekseeva, A., E. Alieva, Arruda, R.P., Ciro De Luca, N. D’Ettore, Ilaria Frattale, M. Yu. Kurnukhina, Macerola, N., E. Malenkova, M. Maiorova, Novikova, A., Pavel Rehulka, V. Rapaccini, O. Roshchina, Vanderschueren, G., Zvaune, L., Andreou, A.P. and Kristian Agmund Haanes (2020). The fifth cranial nerve in headaches. Journal of Headache and Pain, [online] 21(1). doi:https://doi.org/10.1186/s10194-020-01134-1.
- Wei, D.Y., Jia, J. and PJ Goadsby (2018). Cluster headache: Epidemiology, pathophysiology, clinical features, and diagnosis. Annals of Indian Academy of Neurology, [online] 21(5), pp.3–3. doi:https://doi.org/10.4103/aian.aian_349_17.
- Rainero, I., Rubino, E., Koen Paemeleire, Gai, A., Vacca, A., Martino, P., Gentile, S., Sarchielli, P. and Pinessi, L. (2013). Genes and primary headaches: discovering new potential therapeutic targets. Journal of Headache and Pain, [online] 14(1). doi:https://doi.org/10.1186/1129-2377-14-61.
- Buse, D.C. (2015). Primary headache: What’s stress got to do with it? – Dawn C Buse, Richard B Lipton, 2015. [online] Cephalalgia. Available at: https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/0333102414567382
- Zoë Delaruelle, Ivanova, T.A., Khan, S., Negro, A., Raffaele Ornello, Raffaelli, B., Terrin, A., Mitsikostas, D.D. and Reuter, U. (2018). Male and female sex hormones in primary headaches. Journal of Headache and Pain, [online] 19(1). doi:https://doi.org/10.1186/s10194-018-0922-7.
- Cho, S., Mi Ji Lee, Hea Ree Park, Kim, S., Eun Yeon Joo and Chin Sang Chung (2020). Effect of Sleep Quality on Headache-Related Impact in Primary Headache Disorders. The Journal of Clinical Neurology, [online] 16(2), pp.237–237. doi:https://doi.org/10.3988/jcn.2020.16.2.237.
- Rossi, H.L. and Recober, A. (2015). Photophobia in Primary Headaches. Headache, [online] 55(4), pp.600–604. doi:https://doi.org/10.1111/head.12532.
- Kim, J., Lee, W., Jong Uk Won, Jin Ha Yoon, Seok, H., Yeong Kwang Kim, Lee, S.-H. and Roh, J. (2017). The relationship between occupational noise and vibration exposure and headache/eyestrain, based on the fourth Korean Working Condition Survey (KWCS). PLOS ONE, [online] 12(5), pp.e0177846–e0177846. doi:https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0177846.
- Ashish Kumar Maurya, Qureshi, S., Shalini Jadia and Mamta Maurya (2019). ‘Sinus Headache’: Diagnosis and Dilemma?? An Analytical and Prospective Study. Indian Journal of Otolaryngology and Head & Neck Surgery, [online] 71(3), pp.367–370. doi:https://doi.org/10.1007/s12070-019-01603-3.
- Xu, Y., Gao, Y., Jiang, L., Wu, L., Yin, J., Yang, Z. and Dong, Y. (2023). Global trends in research on cervicogenic headache: a bibliometric analysis. Frontiers in Neurology, [online] 14. doi:https://doi.org/10.3389/fneur.2023.1169477.
- Vandenbussche, N., Laterza, D., Lisicki, M., Lloyd, J., Lupi, C., Tischler, H., Toom, K., Vandervorst, F., Quintana, S., Koen Paemeleire and Zaza Katsarava (2018). Medication-overuse headache: a widely recognized entity amidst ongoing debate. Journal of Headache and Pain, [online] 19(1). doi:https://doi.org/10.1186/s10194-018-0875-x.
- Witteveen, H., Berg, P. and Vermeulen, G.M. (2017). Treatment of menstrual migraine; multidisciplinary or mono-disciplinary approach. Journal of Headache and Pain. [online] doi:https://doi.org/10.1186/s10194-017-0752-z.
- Upadhyaya, P., Arathi Nandyala and Ailani, J. (2020). Primary Exercise Headache. Current Neurology and Neuroscience Reports, [online] 20(5). doi:https://doi.org/10.1007/s11910-020-01028-4.
- Arca, K.N. and Halker, B. (2021). Dehydration and Headache. Current Pain and Headache Reports, [online] 25(8). doi:https://doi.org/10.1007/s11916-021-00966-z.
- Harb, A., Abraham, S., Rusdi, B., Laird, T., O’Dea, M. and Habib, I. (2019). Molecular Detection and Epidemiological Features of Selected Bacterial, Viral, and Parasitic Enteropathogens in Stool Specimens from Children with Acute Diarrhea in Thi-Qar Governorate, Iraq. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, [online] 16(9), pp.1573–1573. doi:https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph16091573.
- Rostami, K., Rostami-Nejad, M. and Al Dulaimi, D. (2015). Post gastroenteritis gluten intolerance. Gastroenterology and hepatology from bed to bench, [online] 8(1), pp.66–70. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4285934/
- Altomare, A., Claudia Di Rosa, Imperia, E., Emerenziani, S., Cicala, M. and Pier, M. (2021). Diarrhea Predominant-Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS-D): Effects of Different Nutritional Patterns on Intestinal Dysbiosis and Symptoms. Nutrients, [online] 13(5), pp.1506–1506. doi:https://doi.org/10.3390/nu13051506.
- Motamedi, H., Matin Fathollahi, Ramin Abiri, Sepide Kadivarian, Mosayeb Rostamian and Amirhooshang Alvandi (2021). A worldwide systematic review and meta-analysis of bacteria related to antibiotic-associated diarrhea in hospitalized patients. PLOS ONE, [online] 16(12), pp.e0260667–e0260667. doi:https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0260667.
- Mayuko Haraikawa, Shibuya, T., Kurosawa, T., Ito, K., Nomura, K., Haga, K., Nomura, O., Takeda, T., Fukushima, H., Murakami, T., Ishikawa, D., Hojo, M., Yao, T. and Akihito Nagahara (2022). Differential diagnosis of ulcerative colitis with increased diarrhea; collagenous colitis or irritable bowel syndrome? A case report. Journal of International Medical Research, [online] 50(12), p.030006052211406-030006052211406. doi:https://doi.org/10.1177/03000605221140686.
- Liauw, S. and Saibil, F. (2019). Sorbitol: Often forgotten cause of osmotic diarrhea. Canadian family physician Medecin de famille canadien, [online] 65(8), pp.557–558. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6693595/#:~:text=Sorbitol%20can%20cause%20gastrointestinal%20symptoms,report%20of%20associated%20weight%20loss.&text=These%20effects%20vary%20from%20one%20individual%20to%20another.
- Fiori, G., Spada, C., Pietro Soru, Gian Eugenio Tontini, I. Bravi, Bruno Mario Cesana, Cesaro, P., Manes, G., Orsatti, A., Prada, A., Alessandro Quadarella, Schettino, M., Spina, L., Trovato, C., Marino Carnovali, Vecchi, M., Cavallaro, F., Codazzi, M., Germana de Nucci and Roberto, G. (2022). Pharmacokinetics of oral mannitol for bowel preparation for colonoscopy. Clinical and Translational Science, [online] 15(10), pp.2448–2457. doi:https://doi.org/10.1111/cts.13373.
- Alexander, Amy A.M. Leung, Alex H.C. Wong and Hon, K. (2019). Travelers’ Diarrhea: A Clinical Review. Recent Patents on Inflammation & Allergy Drug Discovery, [online] 13(1), pp.38–48. doi:https://doi.org/10.2174/1872213×13666190514105054.