A woman sips from a straw as many clear liquid glasses of colonoscopy prep are set in front of her.

Reducing the Risk of a Migraine Attack During Colonoscopy Prep

I don’t know anyone who looks forward to a colonoscopy. For those of us with migraine, the required dietary restrictions and prep procedure bring risks of a migraine attack on top of all the other unpleasantries.

My recent colonoscopy went way better than expected and I learned some important tricks along the way. In this article, I share practical advice for minimizing the risk of triggering a migraine attack while preparing for this unpleasant medical procedure.

Step #1

The very first step is to talk with the doctor who will be doing the colonoscopy about migraine. Let them know what concerns you have and ask for specific advice on ways to address those concerns given your particular medical situation.

Step #2

The liquid diet for colonoscopy prep is basically sugar water (in the form of Gatorade, popsicles, and Jell-o) or broth. I suspected that the large amounts of sugar and lack of nutrition, especially protein, would be a migraine trigger for me. I asked my doctor if I could have plain gelatin, which is sold as a protein powder. It doesn’t taste great, but it’s not bad and has good amounts of protein. My doctor said it was fine for me to use and it was my saving grace that day.

Step #3

You have to drink a lot of fluid as part of the colonoscopy prep and the diet is basically liquid, so dehydration doesn’t seem like much of a risk. But it certainly can be because the liquid is what cleans you out for the procedure. So, drink more than you think you need to. I made sure to drink Gatorade that day, just in case.

Step #4

When people told me about how awful colonoscopy prep could be, I had no idea that the taste and quantity of the medication you take to clear things out is a big part of the problem! The most common prep requires you to drink a special solution, which has an unpleasant taste. Depending on the solution your doctor prefers and what your insurance will cover, that can be a lot of strongly flavored fluids. There are newer medications which require much less of the flavored solution, which I recommend if you can get them.

I have consumed some really awful tasting things as part of my migraine management, so I didn’t think twice about the prep solution — it turned out the be the worst part! What I didn’t expect is that it would trigger my gag reflex and make it difficult to swallow without fear of vomiting. It took a full hour to get down just 16 oz of liquid. I later learned that there’s a pill that’s approved for colonoscopy prep. I don’t know if it clears things out as well, but if I could have avoided the gag reflex, the whole colonoscopy would have been a breeze.

In any case, if you have concerns about drinking liquid with an unpleasant taste or are prone to vomiting, please let your doctor know ahead of time. If the prep pill isn’t an option for you, there is at least prep solution with a lower volume of liquid.

Step #5

I suspect it depends on the prep solution and the person, but I was pleasantly surprised that my sleep was barely disrupted the night before the procedure. I was only up to drink the solution and then another 30 minutes for it to do its work. The middle-of-the-night dose is the second one you take, so I suspect most of the work gets done with the first dose. If disrupted sleep is a concern for you, see if your doctor has some suggestions to make it easier, as they probably get asked this question a lot.

Step #6

You should be able to take your meds, but please check with your doctor first to get a plan in place. Certain dyes can muddy the colonoscopy results, so you need to be careful about the color of the medication. Also, check to see if the doctor wants you to avoid medication for a certain amount of time the day of the procedure.

How can you ease the stress of migraine ahead of a colonoscopy?

Working with your doctor to plan ahead for potential pitfalls can help ease some of the anticipatory stress of your colonoscopy and can hopefully help minimize the risk of a migraine attack. I can’t promise it will be a pleasant procedure, but I hope these tips can help make it a little better than it would be otherwise.

By providing your email address, you are agreeing to our privacy policy.

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.

Join the conversation

Please read our rules before commenting.