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The Ugly Truth: Poop issues and migraine disease

Let’s talk about something not so charming, shall we?

Let’s talk about the IBS and/or diarrhea that accompany migraine disease for a huge number of us.

Let me lay it out for you: I have long since been very embarrassed when anyone mentions going #2. In my younger years I was tempted to blame my sister for the shame that would wash over me when people referred to poop. You see, my mom once reprimanded her for sitting outside the bathroom door and making jokes about my “daily dump.” Years later I jokingly retold this story to a med student friend who replied with, “That’s really healthy, actually—going once a day.” I got red-faced all over again to know that my friend was referring to my former poop habits.

In our house growing up, we strayed from ever using any distasteful bathroom humor—no f*rt jokes (see, I can’t even spell it, let alone say it without grossing myself out), no sh*t jokes. This is not to say that the Georgia chapter of the Geddis family had some Victorian sense of secrecy and denial when it came to the less glamorous functions of the body—it’s just that these topics were not up for jokey discussion.


Whatever the reasons are for my poop-related embarrassment, I remain to this day reticent to talk about any related issues even with my doctor. Living with a dude makes it a little easier (dudes are gross).

But the more I read about IBS being a concomitant issue with migraine disease, the less embarrassed I feel about it.

So here’s the truth: my bathroom habits are all jacked up, y’all. The healthiest my gut has ever been was when I loyally ate and drank what my complementary care doctor told me to. Then I started feeling better (and feeling the economic weight of paying for the vitamins and supplements that were actually helping out a lot), and I fell off the wagon (as I do). I’m back in a stage where certain foods can have me rushing to the bathroom with little to no warning, and then two or more days will stretch on as a result of unexpected constipation. (You must know that writing this is making me profoundly uncomfortable—maybe I do have some stifled Victorian blood in me after all.)

Let’s lay it on the line, guys. How many of you have stomach/digestion/poop issues? Do they get worse during a migraine attack (perhaps related to gastroparesis), or are they present even when you’re migraine-free? Join me in an attempt to become more comfortable talking about this. Go ahead—let us know how IBS, diarrhea, constipation, etc. might affect your life with migraine.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The Migraine.com team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

Comments

  • KaciMo
    4 years ago

    While I’m reading this 3 years after it was posted, thank you so much for writing it, Janet–as embarrassing as it may have been. It’s so great to know I’m “normal”, in Migraine Land at least. Since stumbling across this site a couple weeks ago, I have discovered that so many of my body’s weird quirks are actually migraine-related. I’ve been living with daily migraines for 11 years and never made some of these connections. So glad to know I’m not alone and not a crazy hypochondriac!

  • Anna Eidt
    5 years ago

    Oh yes. The migraine and the (lack of) pooping work together, against me.

    Daily psyllium and a low insoluble fibre diet, and minimizing gluten-filled foods has helped keep things moving normally (I think), but it’s frustrating to have it treated as a totally separate problem when flare-ups are so closely linked to migraine pain.

    Hoping a naturopath or traditional Chinese doc can help me with more holistic approaches in the future.

  • Benice
    7 years ago

    I have often thought that there was a link because I can go regularly for days and then after a migraine attack go up to 7 times in one day. I talked to my doctor about it and he just asked about what I ate. I have not been officially diagnosed with celiac disease but I cannot eat gluten or dairy due to the stomach and bowel issues I end up with. Avoiding gluten and most grains plus avoiding dairy has helped with most of the symptoms but after a migraine it feels the same. Do you think we should add this to the migraine journal as something to watch?

  • tucker
    7 years ago

    I’m pretty convinced it does have a lot to do with medications too. When I took Cymbalta several years ago I was horribly constipated and that was when I ate really healthy. Now I’m tapering off topamax and just added depakote a month ago and it seems to cause a bit more problems. This time my diet is touch and go though getting better due to problems with severe nausea the past couple years.

    But I’ve also noticed that when I get 2-3 day migraines – the whole combo of migraine and nausea meds just stops me up big time. I’ve been used to alternating phenergan and zofran daily for 6 months but now when I throw that in with brain pain meds my system gets thrown for a loop where it didn’t before. Maybe it’s also hormonal??? Who knows? It is weird how all meds we use to fix our brain pain say may cause headache, nausea, constipation, diarrhea….. Where are the ones that say may cause youthful spring to your step and the painfree life you long for! Sigh…

  • J Ann Brown
    7 years ago

    I’ve had migraines for 37 years and IBS, too! My IBS does get worse during a Migraine episode and follows through with side effects the next day. If only I could balance the IBS without getting a Migraine, it’s a very menacing cleanse……I have Fibromyalgia, osteoarthritis…blah blah blah also and I have noticed that the Magnesium seems to help regulate me when the Migraine syndrome is not flaring up. Some of the day afters keep me home from work because my system is so sensitive and the Migraines flare up my FMS.

  • Teri Robert
    7 years ago

    Judy Smith Brown, no, I haven’t. I’m still struggling along with medications, but making progress. I’ve talked with Dr. Guyuron though and written about his surgery. That’s how I know that to be considered a candidate for his surgery, patients have to have success with Botox. It’s really interesting.

  • J Ann Brown
    7 years ago

    Not yet, but I have discussed it with a member of his staff. I am anxious to find out what the results bring. Did you have it done Teri?

  • Teri Robert
    7 years ago

    Judy Smith Brown have you had Botox? That’s a prerequisite for Dr. Guyuron’s procedure. He only considers patients to be a candidate if Botox works for them.

  • J Ann Brown
    7 years ago

    I checked with one doctor so far and He said it would not work, so now I am planning to go to Cleveland to Dr. Guyuron.

  • Shelise Boso
    7 years ago

    Yeah, the brow lift. It is supposed to work with specific migraines. I get mine in corner of my right eye over to my ear searing pain. Worth checking into. Couldn’t hurt 😉

  • J Ann Brown
    7 years ago

    do you mean the surgery?

  • Shelise Boso
    7 years ago

    Did you see the new procedure they are doing for people who suffer with migraines? When I get back to the US, I am going to check it out. I am way over having these, especially when the weather drastically changes, really throws me into a cycle.

  • Simone Soileau
    8 years ago

    Wow! I attributed this to my daughter’s birth and my menstrual cycle but now that I think about it, it is related more to my migraines. As I continue to learn more about my body, mainly through this site, I am starting to think that all of these different things wrong with me are related. I mean, I am only 44, I could lose about 20 lbs, I am not diabetic, I do not have heart disease or high blood pressure, except during a migraine, I am basically healthy. So why do I have all of these symptoms, right? It’s cause I’m crazy and a hypochondriac, right? That’s got to be it. Except that they are real symptoms. It has taken me 25 years this month to start to put all of this together. I still haven’t found a good doctor or an explanation. Thanks for the great articles!

  • Simone Soileau
    7 years ago

    Sorry, I just saw your response.

  • Simone Soileau
    7 years ago

    Where is she located, Camille Ardoin?

  • Camille Ardoin
    8 years ago

    You need to see Dr. Kelly Cobb, she is awesome in situations like this. She thinks outside the box and doesn’t stop until she figures things out. I have been working for her for over a year now and have seen so many people like yourself get well!!

  • Penni Friess
    8 years ago

    That sounds just like me! I go through the same cycling of my bowels…never thought it could be related to my migraines.

  • Nikki Wills
    8 years ago

    I always thought I was lactose intolerant. I am wondering now if it wasn’t related to my migraines. Something to ask my specialist about anyways.

  • taralane
    8 years ago

    I have been dealing with either violent diarrhea or constipation as a way of life for some time now. First is was just the constipation. That was one thing. Then about 3 months ago, all I had was diarrhea. It got so bad I was looking at adult diapers at the drugstore and trying to figure out what would fit me, and as I could not figure it out, and the supply was always low, I never did get any. I was doing a lot more washing than I was used to, and I don’t have a machine and live in an apartment so there were a lot of trips to the laundry room. So I started eliminating all foods that might be triggering the diarrhea. It got so bad I was afraid to eat. I called my doctor and he put me on a diet of chicken broth (I am a vegetarian, but that went out the window in the face of this problem) white bread, apples, bananas, and white rice. That lasted about 2 days, and I had to have some regular food, and the diarrhea came back within about 5 hours along with severe cramping. Not being willing to go back to that again, I went back on the diet and have been on it for 3 1/2 months now, lost some weight (who wouldn’t), added some white meat chicken to it for protein, and am at a standstill. I’ve gone in for a colonoscopy for which the doc gave me too weak a protocol and it has to be repeated, and endoscopy, that was fine, even though 2 biopsies were taken but no pre-cancerous tissues were found to my relief. They are not going to do another colonoscopy for another 6 mos. to a year, so I am going to tell him about the information here and see if it will ring a bell. I did not know others were having the same problems.

    I hope I don’t have to stay on this diet too much longer. I have grown fond of toast with banana slices and a little cinnamon sugar on top. Shows you can make something good out of anything.

  • Sarah Hoyte
    8 years ago

    I had major issues with IBS for years before I started getting chronic migraines. It was after I got the IBS symptoms (which were mostly pain) under control enough by going on a low-FODMAP diet (no wheat, onions, legumes, fruit high in fructose etc) and I stopped having to take amitriptyline for it that I started having daily headaches. It’s really hard balancing the restricted diet with the migraines, but it’s worth it now that my IBS symptoms are minimal. Unfortunately, fixing the headaches is not as simple as starting amitriptyline again!

  • Karen Walker Hilton
    8 years ago

    I’ve pretty much resigned myself to attributing my constipation to the medications I take…so every other day or two I take a laxative (actually 2-3) to help me poop. I’ve talked to my doctors (both my neuro and family doc) about this and their suggestions were to add more fiber to my diet, which I have done but it hasn’t helped. I’m eating A LOT more fiber enriched foods and taking a fiber supplement and I am still constipated. By day #3 of this constipation, I am in major pain! So laxatives it is! Both docs know about the laxatives and while they are not crazy about the idea, they are aware of the pain it causes. In the past it was issues with diarrhea….I sure would like to find a middle ground here.

  • Melanie Symonds
    8 years ago

    Karen, just wondering…. Have you ever tried taking magnesium supplements? When I started taking daily magnesium (balanced with calcium) to help reduce the severity of my migraines, I discovered my chronic constipation became a thing of the past, too. Happy day!

  • aspenmarks
    8 years ago

    In my struggle to find reasons why I get the M, I found while I was taking Topomax I got really messed up in the intestines and I thought it was an IBS thing when in fact it was the Topomax that was slowing things way down. So glad I got off that!! It was not worth the gut problems or the lack of the ability to think. Yes, I lost 20#, but gained it right back after I quit Topomax. I too had varying bowel issues. I think it might have some relations to the fight/flight response. One time I had a really intense massage of the head/neck/shoulder area, while I was in the midst of the M, and soon after I had a mega (****) and I wonder if the massage had something to do with it.

  • Elaine Axten
    8 years ago

    I have fibro as well, which can be a red flag for IBS, so am not a good petri dish… I take an antipsychotic which reduces the diarrhea but the constipation is still very problematic. without the antipsychotic I have diarrhea every morning for about three hours, so it’s an improvement.

  • Carol D. Marsh
    8 years ago

    I, too, was raised by parents who banned jokes of this sort, and I have my own red-faced remembrances, although maybe not exactly like yours. But the point is I can relate about how shame rushes in even decades later. Sad. That being said, Yes, I have poop issues. Acutally, I have plop-plop issues (that’s what we kids called it amongst ourselves). Diarrhea strikes randomly, and often related to a migraine or a migraine on its way.

  • Rick Zemlin
    8 years ago

    thanks as always for your honesty, Carol. (Seriously!)

  • Janine Burns
    8 years ago

    I had leaky gut 3 years ago when my migraine go worse. I went on a rotation diet and avioded all yeast attracting foods. It helped my gut but I still had the migraines. Now I eat mostly organic and take my vitamins and of course y meds.

  • Janene Zielinski
    8 years ago

    Gluten free helps for me – but when I have to go days without exercising because of migraine – ugh!! Nothing having to do with my body works like it should when I have a migraine.

  • Migraine Monologues
    8 years ago

    I’m actually going to write a Migraine Monologue blog post about something similar very soon. I get IBS type spasm attacks AFTER I’ve had a severe migraine, or a group of them. The docs reckon its the stomach starting to work again, for me a build up of air/gas – and all the new research shows that a lot of the nerves involved in migraines and stomach are the same (if you get what I mean). It took me a while to realise the two were connected until I realised these stomach spasm attacks got worse as my migraines got worse. And I’m talking chid birth type stomach spasms, sweaty, blind spots, nearly fainting then having to rush to sit on the ‘loo’ as we call it in the UK. Being British we don’t like to talk about it either. I’m currently trying out something called the FODMAP diet which is believed to help the symptoms of IBS, the idea being if I can calm down my stomach this might not happen after migraine? I’ll let you know how it goes! I’ll also try to find more detailed info about the FODMAP diet as scientific research has shown certain foods aggregate IBS such as garlic/onion, i.e basic cooking ingredients! But I’ve also been surprised to discover how many people suffer with IBS type issues and migraine.

  • Courtney Thomas
    8 years ago

    This explains so much. I have been told I have IBS – Its not easy to talk to your Dr about this subject. My Family has a history of digestive issues and I try to tell my Dr of any issues I am having. They told me it was IBS and I should change my diet. I feel better when I eat the things on the list, but sometimes that doesn’t even matter. My tummy does what it wants to and its usually never what I had in mind.

  • theresadz
    8 years ago

    Until I got diagnosed with migraines and started doing all my research I never realized that what my body was doing wasn’t normal. I didn’t realize not going for three days and then having to go all the time wasn’t normal. Now I’m not sure if my bowel issues are due to the medications and vitamins I’m on or if it’s the chronic migraines but I can’t remember the last time I was regular. Once I have given my body enough time to figure out this new med I’m on and if my bottom half doesn’t straighten out I’ll bring it up to my doctor. Thank you for bringing up this VERY important issue that we ALL deal with even if we don’t want to talk about it. Half of the time we don’t realize that what we do isn’t normal until we talk about it.

  • Diana-Lee
    8 years ago

    Me! I vacillate between diarrhea and constipation. I can’t remember the last time I was regular. Sometimes it helps to use Miralax to get things moving, but my status can change so fast that I’m reluctant to use it right away when I’m constipated for fear it will make the impending diarrhea worse. I’ve pooped my pants more than once in adult hood. The first time was in college, where I was stuck at the student union in my poopy drawers, completely humiliated, embarrassed and stuck. To be perfectly honest, while the pain of chronic migraine is difficult to deal with, the stomach issues are by far the most demoralizing, embarrassing part of the disease and the part that keep me held hostage more often than the pain.

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