Each week, OMRF Vice President of Research Dr. Rod McEver opens “Adam’s Journal” to answer a medical question from Adam Cohen, OMRF’s senior vice president & general counsel.
Here’s a question from a reader:
Recently, I experienced the worst headache I’ve ever had. The pain was so severe that I threw up. But oddly, when I vomited, the pain from the headache subsided almost immediately. Why would this be, and is it cause for concern?
Dr. McEver Prescribes
For this question, I consulted Gabriel Pardo, M.D., who leads the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation’s Multiple Sclerosis Center of Excellence. Dr. Pardo is a board-certified neurologist. Here’s what he said:
Ah, yes…headaches! Based on your description, the most likely culprit is a migraine. The experience can be alarming if you’ve never had one.
Headaches are one of our most common ailments. A study analyzing neurological disorders across the U.S. from 1990-2017 showed 190 million people experienced either migraine or tension-type headaches. When it comes to the burden on society, as measured by disability, migraines ranked third after stroke and dementias.
Migraines can occur at any age and present with or without an “aura,” a symptom that precedes the pain. A common aura is the presence of jagged, colorful lines in the peripheral vision that tend to expand. Migraines may also have associated symptoms like nausea, vomiting and sensitivity to lights, smells and sound.
In your case, the immediate relief after throwing up is uncommon but not unheard of among migraine sufferers. Some speculate this is because vomiting modulates the nerves in the gastrointestinal tract, which then give feedback to the brainstem. Others theorize that the relief comes from the constriction of blood vessels – including ones inside the head – that follows vomiting.
Headaches can have many causes, so a first-time, unusually severe headache is reason to consult your physician. If, as I suspect, you’ve joined the unfortunate club of migraine sufferers, your doctor will advise on how to best manage – or avoid – future incidents!
Do you have a health query for Dr. McEver? Email email@example.com and your question may be answered in a future column!