There are many reasons you might have abdominal pain and a headache at the same time. While many of these causes are not serious, some may be. These pains can potentially be signs of a larger problem.
Both abdominal and headache pain can range from mild to severe pain, depending on the cause. Read on to learn more about potential causes and treatments.
Some causes of concurrent abdominal pain and headaches are common, while others are rarer. Some may be mild, while others are serious. Below are some of the potential causes of abdominal pain and headache, from most to least common.
The common cold is a viral infection of the nose and throat. Most people get a few colds per year, and recover in 7 to 10 days without treatment. However, you can treat the individual symptoms of a common cold. Other symptoms include:
Gastroenteritis may sometimes be called the stomach flu, but it’s not actually the flu. It’s an inflammation of the lining of your intestines, caused by a virus, bacteria, or parasites. Viral gastroenteritis is the second most common illness in the United States. Other symptoms include:
Salmonella is a foodborne illness, usually spread through meat, poultry, eggs, or milk. It is one cause of bacterial gastroenteritis. Other symptoms include:
- abdominal cramps
Urinary tract infection (UTI)
A urinary tract infection is an infection in any part of the urinary system. It most commonly occurs in the bladder or urethra. UTIs are more common in women. They don’t always cause symptoms, but when they do, those symptoms include:
- strong, persistent urge to urinate
- pain while urinating
- red, pink, or brown urine
- cloudy urine
- urine that smells bad
- pelvic pain (especially in women)
Urine carries waste in it. When there’s too much waste in your urine, it can form crystals and create a solid mass called a kidney stone. These stones can get stuck in your kidney or urethra.
In many cases, the stones pass naturally, but they can also back up urine and cause a lot of pain. Symptoms of kidney stones include:
- severe pain on one side of your lower back
- blood in your urine
- cloudy urine
- urine that smells bad
Prostatitis is an inflammation of the prostate. It can be caused by bacteria, but often the cause is unknown. Prostatitis may not cause any symptoms, but if it does, those symptoms include:
- pain that lasts for at least 3 months in at least one of the following areas: between your scrotum and anus, lower abdomen, penis, scrotum, or lower back
- pain during or after urination
- urinating eight or more times a day
- not being able to hold urine when necessary
- weak urine stream
- body aches
- inability to completely empty your bladder
- urinary tract infections
Mononucleosis (mono) is a contagious disease that is most common in teens and young adults. Symptoms usually last 4 to 6 weeks, but can last longer. Symptoms include:
Abdominal migraine is a form of migraine most common in children. Most children with this condition grow out of it and develop more typical migraine headaches instead. Attacks usually last 2 to 72 hours, and may include:
- moderate to severe pain around the belly button
- loss of appetite
Gastrointestinal diseases include a wide range of diseases that fall into two categories: functional and structural. Functional gastrointestinal diseases are when the gastrointestinal (GI) tract looks normal but doesn’t function properly. These include constipation and irritable bowel syndrome.
Structural gastrointestinal diseases are when the bowel doesn’t look or functional normally. Examples include hemorrhoids, colon cancer, polyps, and inflammatory bowel diseases like ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease.
The flu is a respiratory illness caused by influenza virus. It can be mild to severe, and can even lead to death. Fatal cases are more common in the very young, the elderly, or people who are immunocompromised. Symptoms usually come on suddenly and include:
- sore throat
- runny or stuffy nose
- vomiting and diarrhea (less common symptoms)
Gallbladder inflammation usually occurs when a gallstone blocks the cystic duct, which carries bile out of the gallbladder. This inflammation is also called cholecystitis and can be acute (come on suddenly) or chronic (long-term). Gallbladder inflammation requires hospitalization and may require surgery. Other symptoms include:
- severe and steady abdominal pain in acute cholecystitis
- abdominal pain that comes and goes in chronic cholecystitis
Pelvic inflammatory disease
Pelvic inflammatory disease is an infection in a women’s reproductive organs. It’s caused by bacteria, usually from a sexually transmitted infection, and can cause fertility issues if not treated. Pelvic inflammatory disease often does not cause symptoms, but potential symptoms include:
- lower abdomen pain
- foul-smelling vaginal discharge
- pain during sex
- pain while urinating
- irregular menstruation, such as very long or short cycles
Appendicitis is a blockage in your appendix. It can cause pressure to build up in the appendix, problems with blood flow, inflammation, and potentially cause the appendix to rupture.
Appendicitis is a medical emergency. If you think you may have appendicitis, go to the hospital as soon as possible. Symptoms include:
Diverticulosis is when small pouches, or sacs, form in your colon and push outward through weak spots in your colon walls. When the sacs become inflamed, you have developed diverticulitis. Diverticulosis often does not cause symptoms, but diverticulitis have potential symptoms that include:
- pain in your lower left abdomen
- constipation or diarrhea
Other, rarer causes of concurrent abdominal pain and headache include:
- cyclical vomiting syndrome, which causes recurrent episodes of severe nausea and vomiting
- hyperimmunoglobulin D syndrome, a rare genetic disorder that causes high fever, headaches, abdominal pain, and loss of appetite
- postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS), a condition that affects circulation (symptoms include lightheadedness, fainting, and an increased heartbeat after standing up from reclining position)
If your symptoms develop 8 to 72 hours after eating or drinking, abdominal pain and a headache may be due to gastroenteritis. If the pain comes on sooner, it may be due to a food intolerance or gastrointestinal disease.
The most common cause of abdominal pain and a headache during pregnancy is a urinary tract infection.
The most common cause of abdominal pain and a headache with nausea is gastroenteritis (stomach flu).
Treatment for concurrent abdominal pain and headache depends on the cause. Potential treatments and what they can be used for include:
- No treatment (waiting for illness to pass). Common cold, gastroenteritis, and mononucleosis. However, you may still treat the symptoms of these illnesses, such as a runny nose or nausea. Hydration is often important.
- Antibiotics. Urinary tract infections, pneumonia, gallbladder inflammation, pelvic inflammatory disease, and diverticulitis. In serious cases, you might need intravenous antibiotics.
- Surgery. Severe kidney stones (in which the stones are blasted with sound waves), gallbladder inflammation (gallbladder removal), and appendicitis (appendix removal).
- Pain relievers. Kidney stones, pneumonia, and gallbladder inflammation.
- Drugs for migraine. Abdominal migraine. Both acute and preventive migraine treatment may be used, depending on migraine frequency and severity.
- Antiviral drugs. Flu
- Anti-inflammatory drugs. Inflammatory bowel disease.
- Avoiding trigger foods. Constipation, irritable bowel syndrome, food intolerance.
While many causes of concurrent abdominal pain and headache, such as the common cold, do not require medical attention, others can be serious. See a doctor if you have symptoms of:
- pelvic inflammatory disease
- gallbladder inflammation
- kidney stones
You should also see a doctor if your pain is severe — especially if it is sudden — or if the pain or other symptoms last for a long time.
Many causes of concurrent abdominal pain and headache can be treated just by waiting for the illness to pass and treating the symptoms in the meantime. Others can be serious.
Because concurrent abdominal pain and headache can be a symptom of a larger problem, see a doctor if your symptoms are severe or if you have other symptoms of a serious illness, as listed above.