Understanding the Link: How Headaches Can Cause Nausea

Headache + Nausea


Headaches are often accompanied by nausea and vomiting; it’s one of the most common symptoms. But why does this happen? 

Headaches are generally classified into four major kinds: Tension-type headaches, migraines, cluster headaches, and New Daily Persistent headaches (NDPH). While most headaches are low-risk and pose no threat to your well-being, some could be underlying symptoms of something more ominous. 

If you suffer from frequent headaches followed by nausea and you’re wondering why, you’ve come to the right place. Here’s what you should know about headaches and nausea. 

Are Headaches and Nausea Dangerous?

While headaches and nausea coincide, they are not necessarily a cause of concern if they happen occasionally. However, if one experiences more than twice a month, it could be due to an underlying condition. 

In most cases, common conditions like vision problems, migraine attacks, and dehydration can cause headaches and nausea. In such situations, over-the-counter (OTC) medications, drinking plenty of water, getting your vision tested, and moving about should do the trick. 

However, if the condition persists and is accompanied by unconsciousness, stiffness in the neck, and vomiting for more than a day, rush to Emergency Care immediately. 

Conditions That Cause Headaches and Nausea

There are many conditions — low-risk and high-risk — that can contribute to headaches and nausea. While not all conditions are worrisome, some would need immediate medical attention to treat the disease and lead a healthy life. Some of the conditions (based on risk level) include: 

Low-Level Risk

These headaches can be managed with over-the-counter (OTC) medication. A doctor’s prescription would be ideal, but these conditions can also be treated with home remedies and preventive measures.

  • Dehydration
  • Flu, stomach flu, or common cold
  • Alcohol and caffeine withdrawals 
  • Stress, depression, or anxiety
  • Excessive use of nicotine, caffeine, or alcohol
  • Food allergies or poisoning
  • Strep throat
  • TMJ headaches 
  • Tonsillitis

Medium-Level Risks 

These headaches would need medical intervention; however, they are not life-threatening. Medium-level risk would need prescription medication — if not hospitalization — so it would pay to visit the doctor for relief.  

  • Pregnancy
  • Premenstrual syndrome (PMS)
  • Cluster Headaches
  • Headaches caused by Wisdom Tooth 

High-Level Risks 

Headaches caused by these conditions are severe and would need immediate help from doctors. If left untreated, they can be life-threatening.

  • Kidney disease
  • Meningitis
  • Malaria
  • Yellow fever
  • Hepatitis A
  • Traumatic brain injury
  • Skull fracture
  • Brain aneurysm
  • Brain tumor
  • Thunderclap headaches

It is advised to see a doctor, regardless of the level of risk associated, in order to get a proper diagnosis. Self-diagnosis is never the answer, especially if the condition persists over a few days. 

Headaches and Nausea - Why Do They Occur Simultaneously?

Now that we know which conditions cause headaches and nausea, it’s time to understand why they seem to occur together, especially during migraine headache attacks. Experts suggest the following reasons for nausea and headaches to occur together. 

Affected Vision

Headaches can often affect your vision, sometimes making you feel as if you were spinning. This can cause your vision to sometimes become blurred. All of these sensations and symptoms can cause one to feel nauseous.

Affected Nerve Pathways

Although migraine and nausea are closely associated, experts still don’t 100% know why. One study shows that migraine attacks affect nerve pathways that are responsible for controlling vomiting. Those with migraine showed activity in the brain’s rostral dorsal medullary area, which likely causes nausea. 

Serotonin Levels 

The same study also indicated close associations to serotonin levels to be the answer. It explains that when someone has low serotonin levels, blood vessels start to swell up, causing a migraine. So, low serotonin levels can also be linked to nausea and headaches.

Estrogen Levels 

Another study reports that women are more prone to migraine headaches than men. Experts believe that the sex hormone estrogen and its ever-changing levels may have something to do with it. 

High Blood Pressure 

Many individuals report high blood pressure during migraines, which could be another cause of nausea and vomiting. However, the relation between hypertension, migraines, and nausea is still being studied, so the answer is rather inconclusive.

At the moment, professionals in the medical field are still studying the link between headaches and nausea. While there are many theories, the research is still underway, leaving unanswered questions. Some believe that it’ll be years before we even get a concrete answer.

Ways to Deal With Headaches and Nausea

While high-level risk conditions need immediate medical attention, low-level conditions can be treated at home after a proper diagnosis by a doctor. In most cases, the treatment plan would depend on the cause, but minor headaches can be relieved through the following: 

  • Pain-relieving and antinausea medication
  • Lying in a quiet, dark room
  • Using a warm cloth compress on the forehead
  • Trying alternative treatments, such as aromatherapy, acupuncture, or acupressure
  • Getting some fresh air
  • Drinking plenty of water 
  • Eating small portions of bland foods 

Experts also suggest quitting smoking, reducing consumption of caffeine and alcohol, and avoiding foods that trigger a migraine episode to be good alternatives to avoid headaches and nausea. Besides that, practice good hygiene, take plenty of breaks from screens, get your eyesight tested every six months, and lead an active lifestyle.


You could think of headaches and nausea as distant cousins. More often than not, they go hand in hand. Although not fatal, if you experience headaches and nausea frequently, it could be a symptom of a severe underlying condition, like kidney disease, meningitis, malaria, yellow fever, hepatitis a, internal brain injury, and brain tumor, to name a few. 

While studies are inconclusive on how and why headaches and nausea are linked, some studies suggest poor vision, low estrogen and serotonin levels, high blood pressure, and affected or blocked nerves to be the cause of the two. However, it is of the belief that there are many years until we know the true answer. 

Until then, leading a healthy lifestyle and going for regular medical check-ups can help rule out possible conditions that cause both headaches and nausea together.










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