A Norwegian study looking at the relationship between headaches and some common gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms found the prevalence of headache is higher in persons with GI symptoms than in those who don’t have these symptoms.

Both headaches and GI symptoms are common in the general population but the scientific literature about the co-morbidity of these conditions is negligible. This study, published in the journal, Cephalalgia1, looked at associations between headache, including migraine, and GI symptoms, by analyzing questionnaires completed by more than 43,500 participants in what is known as the Head-HUNT Study.

After adjusting for age, gender, educational level, medication use, depression, and anxiety, the research team noted a significantly higher prevalence of headache among participants who also reported nausea, acid reflux, diarrhea, and/or constipation, compared to those without such symptoms.

Although the association between headache and GI complaints increased markedly with increasing headache frequency, there was no statistically significant association between migraine headaches and GI symptoms.

The study intent was to review any possible GI symptoms among those who experienced headaches. Researchers found strong ties between frequent headache and frequent GI complaints, and raise questions about common mechanisms that might make headache sufferers predisposed to GI complaints, speculating that exploration of shared medications or psychological factors among these participants might narrow the search for linkages. They suggest that more research is necessary before determining the meaning of this interesting association.

First published in the Inside Tract® newsletter issue 170 – 2009
Aamodt, AH et al. Comorbidity of headache and gastrointestinal complaints: The Head-HUNT Study. Cephalalgia. 2007;28:144-151.