Am I Experiencing Abdominal Migraines?

Am-I-experiencing-abdominal-migrainesIf you’ve ever suffered from cyclic stomach discomfort and pain with or without the accompaniment of a headache, you may be experiencing what is known as an abdominal migraine, a widely misunderstood variant of traditional migraines that affect the abdomen instead of or in conjunction with the head. Here’s what you need to know:

Who They Affect

Abdominal migraines are most prevalent in children, affecting an estimated 2% of infants, toddlers, children and teenagers. If children experience abdominal migraines when they are young, they are likely to also experience traditional head migraines when they get older. Adults are susceptible to abdominal migraines, as well. They tend to afflict more women than men and can present as a symptom to head-bound migraines in 50% of cases. Unfortunately, abdominal migraines are so rare (especially in adults) they often get misdiagnosed. Doctors will test for other conditions like irritable bowel syndrome, reflux or lactose intolerance before diagnosing abdominal migraines, a process that could take years.

Here’s more great information on abdominal migraines: 5 Signs Your Child Has Abdominal Migraines


Abdominal migraines can present a number of symptoms that completely disappear between attacks, including:

  • Non-localized stomach pain
  • Pain described as dull or sore
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Loss of appetite
  • Depression
  • Discomfort or uneasiness
  • Head pain or no head pain

In most cases, abdominal migraines cease to afflict patients after about two years, but it is highly likely they will present as head-bound migraines thereafter.

What Causes Abdominal Migraines

The cause of abdominal migraines is unknown, however, some researchers believe there may be a link between the condition and changes in the amount of serotonin and histamine in the body. Abdominal migraines are also linked to genetic predisposition; as about 60% of children who suffer from the condition also have a family history of migraines.

How Abdominal Migraines Are Diagnosed

According to the International Headache Society, in order to be diagnosed with abdominal migraines, you must display the following traits:

A minimum of five attacks that align with the following:

  • Episodes that last 1 to 72 hours
  • Abdominal pain with the following characteristics:
    • Located midline, periumbilical or non-localized
    • Described as dull or sore type pain
    • Moderate to severe in intensity
  • At least two of the following characteristics experienced during an attack:
    • Anorexia
    • Vomiting
    • Pallor

Common Triggers

Positive or negative stress can influence an abdominal migraine attack as well as a change in sleep or food intake. Foods like chocolate, cheese, citrus fruits, and foods containing preservatives or MSG are also considered to be triggers for abdominal migraines. Alcohol may also influence the next bout of pain.


Like head-bound migraines, there is no known “cure” for abdominal migraines. Because little is known about the condition, treatment is hit or miss, and often requires that sufferers try a multitude of different medications before finding one that helps. The goal of treatment is to prevent attacks from occurring and lessen symptoms once an attack does occur. Commonly prescribed medications include:

  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDS)
  • Triptans (like Imitrex)
  • Antidepressants
  • Antiseizure medication
  • Ergotamine medications
  • Aspirin
  • Beta-blockers

If you suspect you may be suffering from adult abdominal migraines, contact your physician immediately and schedule an appointment. Maintaining a migraine diary that outlines the details of your cyclic pain will greatly increase your odds of being properly diagnosed sooner. When you meet with your physician, discuss all symptoms and be sure to disclose all medications you are currently using. You’ll also want to make your physician aware of any family history with migraines.

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Image Source: Ariel Dovas

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