Gastric headaches, which occur along with gastrointestinal symptoms like acid reflux, have been studied since ancient time and are still being studied with no definitive answers about its cause.
We now know that communication takes place between the gut and brain through a pathway commonly called the gut-brain axis. This pathway consists mainly between the enteric nervous system in your gastrointestinal tract and the central nervous system, comprising the brain and spinal cord.
It’s not clear whether acid reflux itself causes headaches, or if headaches can cause acid reflux. But both symptoms often accompany gastrointestinal conditions and other health issues.
Learn the treatments and underlying causes of headaches from acid reflux, including dietary and lifestyle changes that might relieve your symptoms.
Over-the-counter medications used to treat or eliminate heartburn include:
- antacids: These medications are typically used to alleviate heartburn by neutralizing stomach acid.
- histamine antagonists (H2 blockers): These medications bind to histamine receptors in the gastrointestinal tract and reduce the production of acid by cells in the stomach lining.
- proton pump inhibitors (PPIs): PPIs stop stomach cells from pumping acid into the gastrointestinal tract.
Acetaminophen (Tylenol and other brands) is an over-the-counter medication that does not irritate the stomach.
Be cautious about how much Tylenol you take and follow the dosage instruction carefully. At high doses, acetaminophen can be toxic to the liver.
Staying upright can help keep acid in your stomach rather than allowing it to travel upwards into the esophagus.
Give yourself at least 3 hours after eating before you go to bed. This will help reduce acid reflux as well as the resulting headache fatigue.
Eating smaller meals, especially at night, can also help hasten the digestive process, reducing acid reflux.
Nicotine products, such as cigarettes and vaping products, may relax the lower esophageal sphincter muscle, allowing acid to flow upwards.
Reducing or eliminating nicotine from your lifestyle can help reduce acid reflux and headache.
Alcohol use is another potential cause of both acid reflux and headache.
Drinking alcohol can trigger heartburn. Alcoholic hangovers can cause headache, nausea, and vomiting as well as reflux.
Your diet may also result in headache from acid reflux.
Eating spicy or high-fat foods can exacerbate GERD. So can eating large meals, especially at night.
Reduce or eliminate these kinds of foods or any foods you notice result in acid reflux or headache after you eat them.
Sleeping on an incline can help eliminate GERD.
When you are overweight, the muscles and abdominal structure that help keep the lower esophageal sphincter closed become spread apart. This allows the sphincter muscle to open more easily, leading to acid reflux.
If you’re overweight or obese, losing weight can help reduce reflux.
Prescription medications may irritate the stomach or relax the esophageal sphincter, including:
- calcium channel blockers
- birth control pills
- oral antibiotics
In some instances, taking medication with a large glass of water or with food may be enough to reduce irritation. In others, switching to a prescription with coated pills may help.
Carefully monitor side effects of any medication you take regularly, and talk to your doctor about alternative treatments.
If lifestyle changes and over-the-counter medications aren’t enough to eliminate acid reflux and headache, your doctor may prescribe medications, such as:
- H-2 receptor blockers
- proton-pump inhibitors
- migraine medications
- anti-nausea medication
Several conditions of the gastrointestinal tract have been found to have headache as a symptom. They include:
- gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
- inflammatory bowel syndrome (IBS)
- H. Pylori (helicobacter pylori) infection
Scleroderma, an autoimmune condition, has a wide range of symptoms that can include GERD and GERD-related fatigue plus headache.
While limited, several studies have noted the link between headaches and heartburn.
The Head-HUNT study, a large questionnaire-based cross-sectional analysis of nearly 44,000 people, noted higher rates of headache in individuals who also had significant reflux as well as constipation and nausea.
These symptoms also appeared to occur at the same rate in people with migraines as in those with non-migraine headaches.
In addition to headaches, people with GERD may experience sleep disruption from acid reflux that results in fatigue from lack of quality sleep.
GERD is caused by the backwards flow of stomach acid into the esophagus. The burning sensation as well as the bitter taste of acid can wake people up from even deep sleep, resulting in fatigue or exhaustion.
Migraine and gastrointestinal symptoms can sometimes occur together. This can include acid reflux, nausea, and vomiting.
One study based on a survey of over 1,800 people with migraine found that almost half had both GERD and
Migraine treatments and acid reflux
Migraine treatments may also be a cause of acid reflux. NSAIDS (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) are often used to alleviate migraine or headache pain. These medications can irritate the stomach, causing reflux to occur.
Several studies have found that acid reflux and headaches or migraines can occur together.
Several gastrointestinal conditions, including IBS and dyspepsia, may exhibit both symptoms.
Lifestyle changes and over-the-counter medications may be enough to eliminate acid reflux and headache. If these aren’t enough, your doctor may prescribe medications for both symptoms.