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What Can Cause Headache and Vomiting?

By A.M. Boyle
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Headache and vomiting are common symptoms that can be caused by any number of underlying ailments. Conditions triggering headache and vomiting are typically either internal, resulting from a disorder or imbalance within the body, or external, stemming from an occurrence outside the body. Usually, vomiting and a headache are accompanied by other symptoms that can help determine the origin. Some conditions can be quite serious, even life threatening, and it is generally advisable to seek the advice of a medical professional to determine the cause and appropriate treatment.

There are literally hundreds of internal problems that can cause a person to experience head pain, nausea, and emesis. Some of the most common include migraines, infections, hormonal changes, and glucose imbalance. Other less-common causes include certain types of tumors.

Millions of people are affected by migraines. Often, the pain associated with a migraine headache is extreme and debilitating, occurring primarily on one side of the head. The severe pain of a migraine frequently causes nausea and vomiting. A person might also experience other symptoms, such as light and sound sensitivity or dizziness. Sometimes, migraines are preceded by a visual or auditory disturbance called an aura.

Infections can range from an ordinary influenza virus, otherwise known as the flu, to more serious conditions such as meningitis or encephalitis. A person who experiences headache and vomiting because of an infection typically has other symptoms, such as a fever, body aches, or chest congestion. The onset of the symptoms can be sudden or gradual and can vary in severity.

Hormonal changes, such as might occur with pregnancy, menopause, or even a woman’s monthly menstrual cycle, can also trigger headache and vomiting. Similarly, if a person’s blood sugar levels go too high or too low, nausea and headache can occur, along with other symptoms, such as disorientation, sweating, and shaking. An extreme fluctuation in blood glucose levels is frequently a sign of an underlying condition such as diabetes and should be evaluated by a health care professional.

Although less common, brain tumors can cause symptoms of headache and vomiting. The headache, usually worse in the mornings, can be severe enough to wake a person from a sound sleep. In turn, the pain and pressure often cause a person to throw up. Usually, other symptoms occur, such as seizures, numbness, disorientation, and personality changes.

Aside from disorders originating from within a person’s own body, a host of external conditions can also result in vomiting and headache. For instance, ingestion of spoiled food or exposure to chemical fumes can cause those symptoms. Similarly, trauma to the head area, such as might occur in a car accident or slip and fall, can result in a concussion, which in turn, causes nausea and head pain. Lack of adequate hydration, such as might occur with heat stroke or excessive exercise, frequently causes severe headache, cramping, and vomiting. Outside conditions causing emesis and head pain are usually easier to determine than internal causes but are generally quite serious, requiring immediate medical attention.

Given the sheer number of possible causes of headache and vomiting, it is impossible to cover them all in a short article such as this. Further, every person experiences symptoms differently. Often, these symptoms are not related to a serious or life-threatening condition, but it is difficult for the average person to tell when medical attention is needed and when it is not. Consequently, it is always better for an individual to err on the side of caution and seek the advice of a health care professional.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.

Discussion Comments

By CrimsonWave5 — On Jan 27, 2014

Current thinking suggests that migraines occur when certain nerves in the brain signal blood vessels on the brain's surface to enlarge. Changes in levels of estrogen are also thought to play a role in causing nausea. That may be why more women (than men) experience migraines.

Blood vessels on the brain's surface also swell when levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin drop. It's possible that people with low levels of serotonin may be more likely to experience migraines. Low levels of serotonin may also be linked to motion sickness and nausea.

By spiritgirl3 — On Jan 27, 2014

What specifically triggers the nausea when experiencing a migraine?

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