What causes a headache with nausea?

Some types of headache are accompanied by nausea, which is the feeling of needing to vomit. Migraines are the most common cause of both a headache and nausea.

Other causes of headache with nausea include:

  • the flu
  • a cold
  • dehydration
  • pregnancy
  • food allergies
  • excessive consumption of caffeine, nicotine, or alcohol

In this article, we will explain the common causes of both headaches and nausea, and some underlying issues that are less common and more serious. We also discuss treatments and ways to prevent the symptoms.

Causes of headache with nausea

What causes a headache with nausea?
A headache accompanied by nausea is a common symptom of a migraine.

Headaches are very common, and most people will experience headache from time to time. Nausea sometimes accompanies a headache, and a number of health issues can cause this problem.

Migraines is the most common cause of both headache and nausea. According to a 2015 review, around 1 in 7 people in our country experience migraines every year.

A migraine feels like a moderate or severe headache. The pain is often throbbing and located on one side of the head. During a migraine, a person may also experience:

  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • sensitivity to light or sound

Other common causes

Beyond migraines, common causes of both headaches and nausea include:

  • cluster headaches
  • the flu, stomach flu, or common cold
  • dehydration
  • excessive use of nicotine, caffeine, or alcohol
  • stress, depression, or anxiety
  • food allergies
  • food poisoning
  • strep throat
  • tonsillitis
  • premenstrual syndrome
  • pregnancy

Another common cause of a headache and nausea is low blood sugar, which can result from:

  • not eating enough
  • overuse of diabetes medications
  • liver disease or kidney disease
  • hormonal deficiencies
  • drinking too much alcohol
  • certain medications

Other causes of concurrent headaches and nausea are more severe and may require urgent medical treatment. Understanding the full range of causes is essential, as it can enable a person to seek the right treatment in time.

More serious causes

Headaches and nausea are symptoms of the following severe diseases and injuries:

  • kidney disease
  • meningitis
  • malaria
  • yellow fever
  • hepatitis A
  • traumatic brain injury
  • skull fracture
  • brain aneurysm
  • brain tumor

Why do migraines cause nausea?

Lying in a dark, quiet room can help reduce migraine symptoms.
Lying in a dark, quiet room can help reduce migraine symptoms.
According to the findings of a 2013 review, over 60% of people with migraines also experience nausea and vomiting. However, the medical community is still unsure why migraines can cause nausea.

One explanation is that migraines affect nerve pathways that stimulate the part of the brain that controls vomiting. A 2014 study found that people experiencing migraines with nausea showed activity in the rostral dorsal medullary area of the brain, which likely controls nausea.

Another theory relates to serotonin, a chemical in the brain that affects:

  • nausea
  • mood
  • social behavior
  • appetite
  • digestion
  • memory
  • sex drive

According to a 2012 review, people with migraines sometimes have reduced serotonin levels, which may also lead to nausea.

Treatment of headache and nausea

Treatment for headaches and nausea depends on the cause. If the cause is a migraine, the following actions may help:

  • taking pain-relieving medication
  • lying in a quiet, dark room
  • laying a warm cloth on the forehead
  • putting a cold compress on the back of the neck
  • trying complementary treatments, such as aromatherapy or acupuncture
  • taking anti-nausea medication
  • getting fresh air
  • sticking to bland foods and eating small portions

When do you need to see a doctor?

Anyone who has persistent headaches need to see a doctor.

If a person has a severe, sudden headache and no history of migraines, they should speak with a doctor.

You need to go to see a doctor right away if a headache and nausea follow a blow to the head.

Also, seek medical attention if headaches grow worse over time or accompany any of the following symptoms:

  • loss of consciousness
  • blurred vision
  • a fever
  • trouble speaking
  • feeling dizzy or confused
  • having a stiff neck
  • vomiting that occurs sporadically for more than 1 day
  • not urinating for more than 8 hours

Prevention of headache with nausea

It may not always be possible to prevent headaches and nausea. However, the following actions may help:

  • stopping smoking tobacco
  • reducing caffeine and alcohol intakes
  • reducing the effects of stress through mindfulness, meditation, or yoga
  • drinking plenty of water
  • avoiding foods that have previously triggered a migraine
  • eating a healthful, balanced diet
  • practicing good hygiene to avoid colds, the flu, or the stomach flu
  • not looking at screens too much
  • getting enough exercise


Migraines are the most common cause of headaches that occur with nausea. Dehydration and low blood sugar are also frequently responsible.

Some causes are more serious. Several causes affect the brain, such as meningitis, brain aneurysms, and tumors. These issues typically causes additional symptoms.

Anyone who is worried or unsure about the cause of their headaches and nausea needs to speak with a doctor.

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