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Link between Stomachache and Headache

There is a lot of research and evidence that suggests that certain headaches might be linked to stomach issues and can improve when these digestive problems are treated.
12:00 AM Mar 27, 2024 IST | DR. ZUBAIR SALEEM
link between stomachache and headache

Patients often report a unique symptom in their own terms. One such symptom is “miya chu miyaduk gas kalas khasan” (My stomach gas goes to my head), which describes their experience of what is commonly known as Gas Headaches or Gastric Headaches. This symptom is more prevalent during the Ramadan month, as some individuals experience heartburn, acidity, stomachache, and subsequently headaches.


While the International Headache Society categorizes headaches into primary or secondary types, those resulting from gastrointestinal issues are not widely recognized as a separate category.


Nonetheless, research has shown that primary headaches can be linked to gastrointestinal disorders, with some patients experiencing relief from headaches after treating the underlying digestive condition. This connection between digestive disorders and headaches was also acknowledged by 11th century Persian physicians like Ebn-e-Sina (Avicenna) in “Al-Qanun fit-Tibb” (The Canon of Medicine) and Râzi (Rhazes) in Kitāb al-ḥāwī (The Comprehensive Book), who identified a specific type of headache stemming from stomach problems and named it the "Participatory Headache of Gastric Origin."

There is a lot of research and evidence that suggests that certain headaches might be linked to stomach issues and can improve when these digestive problems are treated.


Conditions like indigestion, acid reflux, constipation, and infections like helicobacter pylori are known to be associated with headaches. The connection between the two might be due to several factors, including nerve signals, chemical imbalances, and food allergies.


The connection between the gut and brain, known as the gut-brain axis, highlights a complex communication network that can influence headache development through neural, hormonal, and immunological signals, as detailed by Carabotti et al. (2015). Functional dyspepsia, associated with chronic upper abdominal pain, has been linked to a higher frequency of headaches, suggesting shared pathophysiological mechanisms, as found by Pinessi et al. (2005).


The bacterium Helicobacter pylori, known for causing gastric issues, has been shown by Tunca et al. (2004) to have a connection to headache pathogenesis, with its eradication potentially reducing migraine severity.


Additionally, the bidirectional relationship between migraines and gastrointestinal disorders, where each can influence the onset of the other, highlights the intricate relationship between gastrointestinal health and headaches, as explored by Park et al. (2016). This research signifies the significant impact of gastrointestinal health on headaches, emphasizing the need for a holistic approach to treatment.

Symptoms of a gastric headache often encompass:

 Headache: Generally, this manifests as a throbbing or constant ache whose severity can fluctuate.

 Stomach Upset: Symptoms can include feelings of bloat, spasms, or overall discomfort in the stomach area.

 Gas and Belching: An increase in burping or gas may occur.
 Nausea: It's common for those suffering from gastric headaches to experience nausea.
 Sensation of Fullness: There might be a pronounced feeling of fullness, even after consuming a small amount of food.

Reasons Behind Gas-Induced Headaches:

 Excessive Gas: Primarily, these headaches are triggered by too much gas in the stomach or intestines, which might be due to ingesting air during meals, eating foods that cause gas, or delayed digestion that causes gas to accumulate.
 Bloating: Gas buildup can lead to the expansion of the stomach or intestines, putting pressure on surrounding areas, including nerves and blood vessels, potentially leading to headaches.
 Referred Pain: The body might interpret discomfort in one area (like the digestive system) as pain in another area, such as the head, leading to headaches.
 Increased Sensitivity: Some people may have a heightened sensitivity to gas in their digestive tract, making them more susceptible to headaches from gas buildup.
 Food Intolerances: Intolerances to foods like dairy or certain sugars can cause excessive gas and discomfort, potentially leading to headaches in some cases.
 Gastrointestinal Conditions: Conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or inflammatory bowel diseases can cause ongoing issues with gas and discomfort, which may also include headaches.
 Air Swallowing: (Aerophagia) Consuming food or drinks too quickly, chewing gum, using straws, or talking while eating can lead to swallowing excess air, contributing to gas buildup.
 Stress and Anxiety: These emotional states can impact digestion, potentially leading to increased gas and discomfort, and in some cases, trigger headaches.
To prevent gas headaches, consider these strategies:
 Eat Slowly: Take your time while eating to reduce the amount of air swallowed.
 Avoid Gas-Producing Foods: Identify and limit foods that cause gas, such as beans, broccoli, cabbage, and carbonated drinks.
 Stay Hydrated: Drink plenty of water to help digestion and reduce gas.
 Exercise Regularly: Physical activity can help move gas through the digestive system.
 Eat Smaller Meals: Smaller, more frequent meals can prevent the buildup of gas.
 Avoid Artificial Sweeteners: Some artificial sweeteners can cause gas and bloating.
 Avoid Chewing Gum: Chewing gum can lead to swallowing air, which can cause gas.
 Check for Food Intolerances: Be aware of any food intolerances, such as lactose or gluten, and adjust your diet accordingly.
 Practice Stress Management: Stress can affect digestion, so meditation always helps.
 Don’t Drink Through Straws: Drinking through straws can increase the amount of air swallowed.

While the concept of a “gastric headache” remains somewhat anecdotal and not strictly defined in clinical terms, the evidence supporting a connection between gastrointestinal health and headaches is compelling.

Future research in this field is essential for devising improved treatment approaches that recognize the interconnectedness between the gut and the brain, a concept articulated by Avicenna and Rhazes in the 11th century.

Headaches can stem from various causes and factors, and it's crucial to consult your doctor to determine the specific type of headache you're experiencing. Seeking advice from your doctor, who can evaluate and address both headache and gastrointestinal concerns, may offer relief and enhance your overall quality of life.