Acid reflux headaches may occur due to the gut-brain axis. Treatment may include lifestyle changes like avoiding certain foods and weight management, as well as OTC and prescription medications.

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Gastric headaches are a type of headache that may be a symptom of several gastrointestinal (GI) conditions.

It’s not clear whether acid reflux itself causes headaches, or if headaches can cause acid reflux.

However, research suggests a link between GI conditions and headaches due to the gut-brain axis. This pathway consists of the enteric nervous system in your GI tract and the central nervous system, comprising the brain and spinal cord.

Learn more about management and prevention tips for gastric headaches, as well as the potential causes.

There isn’t a specific treatment for headaches possibly related to acid reflux.

However, some lifestyle changes and over-the-counter (OTC) medications used to help manage acid reflux may also help you manage headaches.

Try OTC headache medication

Acetaminophen (Tylenol) is an OTC medication that may help relieve headaches without irritating your stomach.

It’s important to follow the dosage instructions carefully to avoid side effects like liver damage.

Try acid-controlling medication

Some OTC medications used to help treat or eliminate heartburn may include:

If these don’t help treat acid reflux and associated headaches, a doctor may prescribe stronger versions of these medications or migraine medications.

Don’t recline after you dine

Staying upright may help keep acid in your stomach rather than allowing it to travel upward into the esophagus.

Give yourself at least 3 hours after eating before you lie down to help reduce acid reflux and a potential headache.

Eating smaller meals, especially at night, may also help hasten the digestive process, reducing acid reflux.

Reduce or avoid nicotine

Nicotine products, such as cigarettes and vaping products, may relax the lower esophageal sphincter muscle, allowing acid to flow upward.

Research suggests that smoking or being exposed to tobacco may also lead to longer, more severe headaches.

If you smoke, speak with a healthcare professional about quitting. They could help develop a smoking cessation plan to help reduce acid reflux and headaches.

Reduce or avoid alcohol

Drinking alcohol may trigger gastrointestinal reflux disease (GERD) symptoms like acid reflux.

It may also trigger the onset of headaches or hangover headaches.

Modify your diet

Several foods and beverages could trigger symptoms of GERD, such as acid reflux. These foods may include:

If you suspect certain foods trigger your symptoms, try reducing or eliminating them.

Elevate your upper body during sleep

Sleeping on an incline could help improve GERD symptoms at night.

You can do this by using bed risers at the head of your bed. A foam wedge or a firm, high pillow may also help.

Learn more about ways to prevent acid reflux at night.

Maintain a healthy weight

If you have obesity or 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.

Research also suggests that obesity is a risk factor for migraine headaches.

If you have obesity and experience acid reflux and headaches, speak with a healthcare professional. They could help develop a sustainable weight loss regimen to help improve your symptoms.

Monitor your medications

Some prescription medications may increase your risk of acid reflux, including:

Speak with a healthcare professional if you think your medications could be causing acid reflux and headaches. They could modify your treatment plan to prevent these symptoms.

Migraine treatments and acid reflux

Some medications used to help treat migraine headaches may also cause acid reflux.

For example, NSAIDs are often used to help alleviate migraine headaches. However, these may irritate the stomach, causing reflux to occur.

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Several GI conditions have been associated with headaches, such as:

A 2023 review also found a significant association between H. Pylori (helicobacter pylori) infection and headaches.

Some research suggests the gut-brain axis may play a role in the development of headaches from acid reflux.

However, researchers agree more studies are needed to determine the exact cause of headaches from acid reflux.

The research on the link between headaches and acid reflux is limited.

A 2022 study found that people with a GI condition were 3.5 times more likely to have migraine headaches than people without a GI condition. Among participants with a GI condition, those with GERD were most likely to have headaches.

Similarly, a 2017 study found that GERD was the most common GI condition in people who had migraine.

A 2022 study in people ages 6–17 years found that acid reflux was highly associated with primary headaches. These are headaches that happen without external triggers, such as injury or disease.

Despite the research on the connection between GI conditions and headaches, more research is needed to establish effective treatments for gastric headaches.

Can acid reflux give you a headache?

Acid reflux may be linked to headaches due to the gut-brain axis. However, more research is needed to fully determine the association.

How do you treat acidity-induced headaches?

Some lifestyle changes like quitting smoking, avoiding certain foods, and limiting alcohol could help you manage headaches potentially caused by acid reflux. OTC and prescription medications may also help.

Can acid reflux cause back pain and headache?

Sometimes, acid reflux could cause pain in your back.

Several studies have found a link between acid reflux and headaches.

Some GI conditions like IBS, GERD, and dyspepsia may exhibit both symptoms.

Lifestyle changes and OTC medications may be enough to eliminate acid reflux and headaches. If these aren’t enough, a doctor may prescribe medications for both symptoms.