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The Connection Between Migraine and Diarrhea

Managing Migraine

June 28, 2024

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Photography by Diane Durongpisitkul/Stocksy United

Photography by Diane Durongpisitkul/Stocksy United

by Sarah Bence


Medically Reviewed by:

Heidi Moawad, M.D.


by Sarah Bence


Medically Reviewed by:

Heidi Moawad, M.D.


Diarrhea can sometimes occur before or after migraine episodes. Attacks may also be triggered by dehydration brought on by diarrhea. Here’s how to manage both, plus why they may happen.

Migraine is so much more than a bad headache. You may have heard of migraine-related nausea and vomiting, but there are other potential symptoms that affect the digestive system — like diarrhea.

Here’s what you need to know about the link between migraine and diarrhea, including possible triggers and underlying causes.

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How are migraine and diarrhea related?

It’s clear there’s a link between gastrointestinal symptoms and migraine.

According to a 2022 study, migraine is about 3.5 times more common in people who have gastrointestinal disorders.

Some gastrointestinal disorders associated with migraine include:

These conditions often have diarrhea as a symptom, which points to the connection between migraine and diarrhea.

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What causes migraine-related diarrhea?

Diarrhea can be a part of the migraine prodrome, which is the stage that occurs before headache pain.

Other prodrome symptoms include:

  • fatigue
  • neck soreness
  • nausea
  • irritability
  • sweating
  • dry eyes

Scientists are still trying to understand the relationship between migraine and diarrhea, including their individual causes and why they might occur together.

A leading theory is that both conditions involve a disruption in the gut-brain axis, or the communication network that connects the gut and brain.

The link could also be due to increased inflammation, which plays a part in both migraine and diarrhea.

Another theory is that people with some gastrointestinal conditions have more sensitive nerve fibers, which also puts them at higher risk of migraine.

Diarrhea can also interfere with the absorption of migraine medications, no matter what causes it. This could lead to a migraine or prevent you from treating one effectively.

Certain foods, stress, and dehydration are also triggers for both migraine and diarrhea.

How to prevent or treat migraine-related diarrhea

The following are suggestions for preventing or treating migraine-related diarrhea.

Get to know your triggers

Learning what triggers your migraine attacks or diarrhea can help you manage both. As can monitoring your overall symptoms.

For instance, if you notice you often have diarrhea a few days or hours before a migraine episode, consider taking migraine medication or avoiding other triggers at that stage to minimize symptoms.

Keep a food diary

As mentioned above, many people find that certain foods can trigger migraine attacks. It’s also possible that these foods could trigger diarrhea.

Research published in 2017 shows that when people with food allergies or intolerances remove the offending foods from their diet, migraine symptoms may improve.

Keeping a food diary can help you track and identify which foods trigger migraine, diarrhea, or both. If this feels overwhelming, you may want to consider working with a dietitian.

Some common dietary triggers for migraine include:

  • caffeine
  • alcohol
  • chocolate
  • aged cheeses
  • cured meats
  • smoked fish
  • yeast extract
  • preservatives
  • artificial sweeteners
  • monosodium glutamate (MSG)
  • missing a meal

Manage stress levels

Stress is a known trigger for migraine and diarrhea. Of course, stress management is easier said than done. Here are some possible tools for reducing stress:

  • practicing yoga or gentle stretching
  • getting regular exercise
  • trying meditation, mindfulness, and breathing techniques
  • managing your schedule and conserving your energy
  • reserving time for resting
  • getting enough sleep
  • considering talk therapy

Take medications for migraine as prescribed

If you take acute or preventive medications for migraine, keep on top of your doses. Missing even one dose can increase the chances of having a migraine attack.

Try setting reminders on your phone or calendar for when to take your pills or renew your prescription. You can also sign up for a mail-order pharmacy service, so you’re less at risk of missing a dose or not having your acute medication on hand when you need it.

If you often have diarrhea before or during migraine attacks, talk with your doctor about acute migraine medications that aren’t absorbed in the intestines.

Some migraine therapies are inhaled or absorbed under the tongue, bypassing the GI system. This can be helpful if diarrhea is potentially preventing the absorption of your migraine treatment.

Stay hydrated

Diarrhea causes dehydration as your body loses fluid through loose stools. Dehydration is one of the most common migraine triggers.

It’s especially important to stay hydrated if you’re prone to both migraine and diarrhea so you can stop the cycle before it starts.

Keep a favorite water bottle with you, and drink at least 2 liters daily. If you have a hard time drinking plain water, other fluids like herbal teas, flavored waters, or hydration packets may help.

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When to talk with a doctor

You may benefit from medical evaluation if your symptoms worsen or increase in frequency.

If you sometimes experience diarrhea before, during, or after migraine episodes, it’s important to share this with your doctor.

Some diarrhea red flags that indicate you need medical attention include:

  • diarrhea that lasts longer than 2 days
  • 5 or more stools within 24 hours
  • bloody or black stools
  • severe abdominal pain

As for migraine, signs you should seek medical help include:

  • pain worse than any previous migraine
  • convulsions
  • muscle weakness
  • changes to speech or vision
  • high fever

Frequently asked questions

Want to know more about migraine and diarrhea? Get the facts below.

Can migraine cause diarrhea?

It’s unclear if migraine directly causes diarrhea, but there’s a link between the two.

People with migraine are more likely to have certain gastrointestinal disorders that are associated with diarrhea. These include IBS, IBD, and celiac disease.

What is a bowel migraine?

A bowel migraine, more commonly called “abdominal migraine” by medical professionals, is defined as a migraine attack and abdominal symptoms happening at the same time.

Is diarrhea a symptom of vestibular migraine?

A vestibular migraine involves vertigo, or a sense of imbalance and disorientation.

According to the American Migraine Foundation, diarrhea is a possible symptom of this type of migraine. Other symptoms that set vestibular migraine apart include dizziness, vertigo, ear pain and ringing, and more.

What is the link between headaches and bowel movements?

Headaches and bowel movements are likely connected through something called the gut-brain axis, or the communication pathway between the brain and the gut.

When one system is imbalanced, it affects the other. For example, this imbalance may trigger migraines, and vice versa.

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Some people report diarrhea as a migraine symptom, and research indicates that people with migraine are much more likely to have gastrointestinal disorders.

The exact connection between the two is complex, but possible links include inflammation, nerve sensitivity, medication malabsorption, and more.

If you notice a change in your migraine or diarrhea episodes, be sure to share it with a medical professional.

Medically reviewed on June 28, 2024

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About the author

Sarah Bence

Sarah Bence is a freelance health and travel writer and a registered occupational therapist. As someone who lives with multiple chronic illnesses, including endometriosis, celiac disease, anxiety, and depression, Sarah is passionate about providing relatable and evidence-based health content. She is the founder of gluten free travel blog — Endless Distances. You can connect with her on her blog or Instagram.

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