Headaches and Constipation: Is There a Link?
If you experience a headache when you’re constipated, you may think your sluggish bowel is the culprit. It’s unclear, though, if headaches are a direct result of constipation. Instead, headaches and constipation may be side effects of an underlying condition.
Constipation occurs when you have less than three bowel movements a week. Your stools may be hard and difficult to pass. You may have a sensation of not finishing bowel movements. You may also have a feeling of fullness in your rectum.
Headache is pain anywhere in your head. It may be all over or on one side. It may feel sharp, throbbing, or dull. Headaches may last a few minutes or for days at a time. There are several types of headaches, including:
- sinus headache
- tension headache
- migraine headache
- cluster headaches
- chronic headache
When headaches and constipation occur on their own, it may be nothing to worry about. Everyone experiences them now and then. You may simply need to have more fiber and water, or find ways to better cope with stress. If headaches and constipation happen at the same time on a regular basis, you may have an underlying chronic condition. Keep reading to learn more about the possible conditions.
Classic symptoms of fibromyalgia include:
- muscle aches and pain
- joint aches and pain
- sleep problems
- memory and mood problems
Other symptoms may also occur, such as constipation and headaches, which may vary in severity.
Many people with fibromyalgia also have irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). In fact, up to 70 percent of people with fibromyalgia have IBS. IBS causes periods of constipation and diarrhea. Your symptoms may alternate between the two.
A 2005 study showed headaches, including migraines, are present in up to half of people with fibromyalgia. Over 80 percent of study participants reported headaches that severely affected their lives.
Constipation and headache may be symptoms of mood disorders such as anxiety and depression. Research shows people with constipation have higher psychological distress than those without the condition.
Stress, anxiety, and depression are common headache triggers. Migraines, tension headaches, and chronic headaches may be experienced daily.
In some cases, constipation and headaches trigger a vicious cycle. You may be more stressed because of constipation, which in turn causes more stress-related headaches.
Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) is characterized by unrelenting fatigue and lethargy. The fatigue you feel with CFS is not the same as being tired after a restless night. It’s a debilitating exhaustion that doesn’t improve after sleeping. Headaches are a common symptom of CFS.
Research indicates a possible link between CFS and IBS symptoms such as constipation. Some people with CFS are also diagnosed with IBS. It’s unclear if they actually have IBS, or if CFS causes gut inflammation and IBS-like symptoms.
Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder triggered by gluten intolerance. Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye. Symptoms occur when you consume foods or beverages containing gluten. Gluten may also be found in less-obvious places, such as:
- instant coffee
There are many possible symptoms of celiac disease, including headache and constipation.
Some medications may cause constipation and headaches. For example, opioids are well-known for causing severe constipation. Using them long-term may cause rebound headaches. Rebound headaches are also known as medication-overuse headaches. They’re triggered by extended use of certain medications.
Constipation and headaches are potential side effects of statins such as Zocor. If you regularly take prescription medications, check with your pharmacist to see if the drugs may be responsible for your symptoms.
Diagnosing Constipation and Headaches
Figuring out what’s causing your constipation and headaches may be challenging. Your doctor may choose to treat each condition separately instead of searching for a common cause. If you believe the two are related, tell your doctor. Also tell them about any other persistent symptoms you have, such as:
- joint pain
- muscle pain
To help your doctor figure out what’s going on, write down how often you have bowel movements and headaches. Note if you’re constipated when headaches occur. You should also track periods of stress and anxiety. Write down if constipation and headaches happen during those times.
Many chronic illnesses have vague symptoms and are difficult to diagnose. In some cases there are no definitive tests. Your doctor may make a diagnosis by excluding other conditions that have similar symptoms. It may take more than one visit and several tests to get the right diagnosis.
Treating Constipation and Headaches
Treatment for constipation and headaches will depend on the cause of these symptoms. If they’re related to IBS, a high-fiber diet with proper amounts of daily fluids may help. If you have celiac disease, you must eliminate all gluten from your diet for symptom relief. Anxiety and other mood disorders may be treated with psychotherapy and medication. Pain medication, therapy, and gentle exercise may help relieve headaches and constipation caused by fibromyalgia.
Preventing Constipation and Headaches
Taking care of yourself is the best way to prevent any health condition. This means eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, and learning to manage stress. It’s important to identify what’s causing your headaches and constipation so that you can work with your doctor to prevent them. Once you’ve treated any underlying problems, your headaches and constipation should improve.
In general, adding fiber-rich foods to your diet may prevent constipation. Fiber-rich foods include:
- fresh fruits and vegetables such as leafy greens and prunes
- whole grains
You should also drink plenty of water. Mild dehydration may lead to constipation and headaches.
Stress management and gentle exercises may help reduce headaches. Yoga, meditation, and massage are especially helpful. If lifestyle changes don’t help completely, you may need medications such as an antidepressant or NSAID (Ibuprofen, Advil).
Can constipation cause a headache? Indirectly, yes. In some cases, the stress of being constipated may trigger a headache. Straining to have a bowel movement may also trigger head pain. If you’re constipated and aren’t eating right, low blood sugar may lead to headaches.
In other cases, when headaches and constipation occur at the same time, they may be symptoms of another condition. If you regularly have headaches and constipation, consult your doctor, especially if they are accompanied by:
- other digestive problems