Abdominal migraines

Pain | April 4, 2018 | Author: Naturopath

nausea, Pain, abdominal pain

Abdominal migraines

During an abdominal migraine the pain is felt in the head rather than the stomach. It is a rare form of migraine that is mainly seen in children aged 5-9 years of age but can occur in adults too. Histamine and serotonin are two naturally occurring chemicals in the body are thought to contribute to the disorder. Certain foods, which trigger migraines can also be contributing factors.

Want to know more about what the disorder is and how to treat it? Then read on for a detailed explanation on abdominal migraines.

What are the symptoms?

Common symptoms experienced by people with abdominal migraine include:

  • Midline abdominal pain and cramping
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Loss of appetite
  • Pallor

Abdominal migraines are episodic. This means that symptoms will come and go. Usually an abdominal migraine will last for a few hours to a few days and may reoccur weeks or months later. Usually there are no warning signs and symptoms can develop rapidly. Children with abdominal migraine generally go on to develop migraine headaches later in life.

Abdominal migraine causes

The exact cause is not entirely known but they seem to have many of the same triggers that headache inducing migraines do. The condition seems to be hereditary, so children who have a parent with migraines may be more likely to have abdominal migraines.

Histamine and serotonin

One theory is that two chemicals histamine and serotonin trigger the condition. Diminished serotonin levels are associated with an array of diseases including depression, anxiety, PMS, insomnia, and in this case headaches and abdominal pain. Histamine is a neurotransmitter which is involved in allergy as well as regulating physiological function in the gut. An increase in levels due to certain foods and an inability to break it down can lead to migraines and digestive symptoms.

Gut-brain pathway

There is some speculation that the condition comes from an issue with the brain-gut pathway. Specifically, cell activity along these pathways that is abnormal, triggers changes to the blood vessels in the head and leads to pain. A small study published in February 2016, discovered a link between this type of migraine and how digested food moves through the child’s intestines. In the abdominal migraine patients, this process is slower than normal. 

Common triggers of abdominal migraines include:

  • Nitrates that are found in processed meats such as deli meats, salami and bacon
  • Chocolate
  • MSG found in Chinese meals, sauces, dressings and processed foods
  • Caffeine
  • Bright lights
  • Flickering lights
  • Swallowing a lot of air
  • Fatigue
  • Anxiety

Identifying what the triggers and taking steps to avoid them can make a huge difference to an individual’s symptoms.

How natural therapies can help


How natural therapies can helpAs with standard migraines, there may be certain foods or chemicals which could be triggering episodes. Usual culprits include alcohol (especially red wine), caffeine, cheese, soy, nuts, sulphites and food additives. What triggers an abdominal migraine can be unique to each person and sometimes it can be a build up of certain foods or chemicals in foods such as histamine which can be a problem.
Click Here For Article on Histamine

A study found that children who suffered from an associated condition, referred to as cyclic vomiting syndrome, had a significant improvement or complete resolution in their symptoms by following a low amine diet. This removes eggs, avocados, bananas, spinach, citrus, processed foods and meats, chocolate, cheese, nuts, certain additives, seafood and fermented foods. In adult’s, alcohol and tea would also be removed. Under the guidance of a naturopath these foods can be introduced one at a time to see if there are any adverse reactions.

Digestive herbs

Gentle digestive herbs such as chamomile, peppermint, fennel and ginger can aid digestion and relieve abdominal pain. They can be made up as an herbal tea or dispensed as drops in a small glass of fresh diluted apple juice. During episodes when foods or drinks aren’t able to be consumed a castor oil pack mixed with essential oils such as peppermint, chamomile or lavender could be applied to the belly.

Reducing stress

Emotional upsets, excessive worrying and anxiety can all contribute to abdominal migraines. Carminative herbs and nutrients may help to reduce anxiety and in some cases fatigue. Examples of nutraceuticals include rhodiola, withania, passionflower, skullcap, lemon balm, B vitamins and magnesium. Many of these nutrients have the ability to increase serotonin levels—a neurotransmitter which contributes to a happy mood and relaxation and in this case decreases abdominal migraines.

Make sure there is adequate time during the day for relaxation and that you get a good night’s sleep. During an attack, rest in a cool, dark room is advised.

Supplements to prevent migraines

Supplements which assist with other forms of migraines may be of assistance for abdominal migraines. This includes:

Vitamin B2 (riboflavin)— is a water-soluble vitamin that improves energy metabolism in the body. In one study daily use of 400 mg of riboflavin for 3 months in adults resulted in around 50% reduction in attacks in approximately 60% of the study population, which was significantly higher than placebo.

Magnesium—levels of this essential mineral reportedly influences migraine related pathways including serotonin, nitric oxide synthesis and release and inflammatory mediators like substance P. Levels are typically low in migraine sufferers and supplementation can significantly reduce migraine frequency and severity.

Feverfew—Clinical trials appear to indicate that feverfew taken prophylactically has beneficial effects in patients who suffer from migraine. One study found feverfew supplementation was associated with a significant reduction in pain intensity and associated symptoms (nausea, vomiting, light sensitivity and sensitivity to sound).

Coenzyme Q10—Is a vitamin-like nutrient which acts as an antioxidant. It has been found to be an effective treatment for reducing migraines with one study finding that after 3 months of supplementation 61.3% of patients had a 50% reduction in the number of days with migraine headache.
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Abdominal migraines—putting it all together

  • A rare form of migraine with stomach pain, nausea and vomiting
  • Episodes are cyclical with periods in which sufferers are symptom free
  • Children are more likely to have the condition
  • Dietary changes, stress reduction and nutraceuticals may help to prevent attacks

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Gelfand AA. Episodic syndromes that may be associated with migraine: A.K.A. “the childhood periodic syndromes”. Headache. 2015;55(10):1358-1364


Angus-Leppan H, et al. Abdominal migraine. BMJ. 2018 Feb 19;360:k179


Paul SP, et al. Antimigraine (low-amine) diet may be helpful in children with cyclic vomiting syndrome. J Pediatr Gastroenterol Nutr. 2012 May;54(5):698-9


D'Onofrio F, et al. Usefulness of nutraceuticals in migraine prophylaxis. Neurol Sci. 2017 May;38(Suppl 1):117-120


Rozen TD, et al. Open label trial of coenzyme Q10 as a migraine preventive. Cephalalgia. 2002 Mar;22(2):137-41


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