A headache is pain and/or discomfort in and around the head, including the neck, sinuses, and scalp. Headaches are common. They range from mildly annoying to very severe.
Nausea is a sick feeling in the stomach—the feeling of needing to vomit.
Migraine headaches are a common cause of headache and nausea. Migraine headaches cause extreme symptoms, including nausea, dizziness, light sensitivity, and severe pain. They’re often preceded by a visual or sensory disturbance, called an aura.
Other, less-serious conditions associated with headache and nausea include the stomach flu (also known as gastroenteritis) and the common cold. Certain foods can also bring about headaches, such as red wine and processed meats that contain nitrates. Dehydration and insufficient food intake can also bring on a headache accompanied by nausea.
Other conditions that can lead to headache and nausea include:
- stress and anxiety
- food poisoning
- food allergies
- extremely high blood pressure
- early pregnancy
- brain infections, such as meningitis, encephalitis or abscess
- subdural hematoma (bleeding in the brain)
Headaches accompanied by mild nausea will typically resolve themselves with time. People who experience frequent migraines may want to consult a doctor about treatment options.
Seek medical attention if you experience an explosive or very severe headache, if your headache and nausea worsen over time, or if you also experience one of these symptoms:
- neck stiffness and a fever
- slurred speech
- vomiting for more than 24 hours
- you have not urinated for 8 or more hours
(This information is a summary. Seek medical attention if you suspect you need urgent care.)
Medical treatments for headache and nausea will typically address the underlying condition. For example, a physician can prescribe medication that can prevent some migraines. A doctor also can prescribe pain medications for when a headache does occur.
Keeping your stress levels low can help to prevent some headaches. Stress-relieving activities such as taking a walk or listening to calming music can help calm “nervous stomach” or anxiety-related nausea.
If you suffer from migraine headaches and feel a migraine coming on, stay in a dark, quiet room and place a cloth-covered ice pack on the back of your neck to reduce symptoms.
Even if you don’t have a prescription pain reliever, over-the-counter options, such as ibuprofen and acetaminophen, may help with these symptoms. However, aspirin may be too tough on your stomach and can cause stomach upset.
Sipping ginger ale or eating soft, bland foods can also help to reduce nausea symptoms.
Certain foods and activities are thought to cause headache and nausea. By avoiding triggers known to cause your symptoms, you can prevent future episodes. Common food triggers include caffeine and alcohol.
You may want to keep a journal in which you write down what you were doing in the hours or days before a headache or migraine. This may allow you to identify and avoid your particular triggers.
Getting plenty of sleep each night can also help reduce headaches and nausea.