When nausea isn’t a migraine symptom

It is tempting to blame every new symptom on migraine, especially if it is a known symptom of migraine. Take nausea, for example. When we get nauseous, we assume it’s a migraine, right? Except when it isn't. Not all nausea symptoms are related to migraine?  Sometimes it is caused by GERD (gastro-esophageal reflux disease). GERD can develop from poor diet or lifestyle choices. It can also be a side effect of the very medications we use to prevent our migraines.

Our first instinct is to reach for prescription anti-nausea medication pills. However, if your nausea isn’t migraine-related, this might not be the best answer.   First, it tends to make you sleepy. Second, it isn’t really addressing the problem.

Some months ago, I complained to my doctor that I was feeling nauseous almost all the time.  I just couldn’t shake it.  I didn’t vomit and I didn’t feel like I was getting a migraine attack, but that gnawing feeling in my gut just wouldn’t go away.  He made no assumptions about the cause and started reviewing my medication list. More than one medication had the potential to cause heartburn.  I had developed GERD.  While we were reviewing medications, we also talked about eating habits and other lifestyle factors that might worsen the problem.  While I didn’t have many of the dietary triggers (because I avoided them to prevent migraine attacks), I did have some behaviors that needed to change.  Most of my medications could be taken with food – something I rarely did.  I also had a habit of falling asleep in a recliner. My doctor explained that it was better to elevate the head of my bed by 4 inches than to sit upright.

He also suggested taking one of the newer OTC acid reducers on a daily basis instead of using it only when I had symptoms.  He explained that using it daily would counteract the medication side effects and prevent me from having that ever-present gnawing feeling. To my surprise, his suggestions worked. My nausea is gone.

Never assume that a new symptom is migraine-related without first checking in with your doctor. If you have constant nausea, please talk to your doctor.  You might be pleasantly surprised to find that it is just a dietary or medication-induced problem that is easily treated.

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