Why Does Throwing Up Relieve Migraines?

There are many migraine sufferers who find that feeling nauseous forms part of their migraine attacks. In fact 90% of people with migraine have reported feeling nausea as part of their migraine attacks. Not all migraine sufferers who feel nauseous during their migraine attacks then go on to throw up, but many who do find that once they have thrown up their migraine attack becomes less severe, and for some, stops completely.

There has been plenty of research into migraines and their symptoms, but even so experts still aren’t sure why throwing up can help to relieve migraine symptoms. There are theories though.

The first theory is that vomiting may happen at the end of a migraine attack because the attack has slowed down the gastrointestinal tract. With the slowed or even paused function of your stomach comes food which can have sat in your stomach for too long. Throwing up occurs as the gastrointestinal tract begins to function normally again and the normal stomach function returns.

Another theory is that the act of throwing up relieves some of the neurotransmitter imbalance that is part of a migraine episode. To get more technical – the chemoreceptor trigger zone (CTZ) in the brain works with the vomiting centre to trigger vomiting. The CTZ also releases the neurotransmitters dopamine and serotonin, which are both endorphins that can help you to feel better.

Next comes the theory that vomiting stimulates the vagus nerve, and this can help to calm the migraine. After all, the FDA has approved a migraine treatment that involves stimulating the vagus nerve electrically – so it’s certainly the case that vagus nerve stimulation in some form helps to bring relief.

Essentially, there are plausible theories as to why vomiting can signal the end of a migraine attack, but there’s no one definite reason that can be pointed to as the reason why. More than that – doctors aren’t sure if vomiting triggers the bodily responses that bring migraine relief, or if vomiting is something that occurs naturally when the migraine is ending anyway and is a symptom of the end of the attack rather than the cause of the end.

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