Headache, Nausea and Vomiting – List of Causes

Headache, nausea and vomiting are very common symptoms. It may occur on its own in different conditions or sometimes it may occur at the same time. Nausea and vomiting are often associated but when it is accompanied y a headache, then the possible causes are far fewer. Headache refers to pain in the upper regions of the head. In some cases, headaches may also be accompanied by pain in the facial region, neck and back. Headaches are classified into different types based on the nature, location and pain.

Nausea refers to a sensation of imminent vomiting. It is a very unpleasant feeling. However, nausea may or may not be followed by actual vomiting. Vomiting refers to a forceful expulsion of the contents of the stomach through the oral cavity. Strong contractions of the muscles of the stomach and the abdomen are responsible for forcing the gastric contents up into the esophagus and the oral cavity.

Headache, nausea and vomiting can occur independently of one another. However, in some cases, they may also occur together. The exact causes responsible for headache, nausea and vomiting may or may not be evident in every case. Sometimes these symptoms may arise suddenly and resolve just as quickly for no clearly identifiable reason. If it does not recur and there are no other symptoms then it may not be a cause for concern.

Causes of Headache, Nausea and Vomiting

Headaches , nausea and vomiting can be caused by a variety of factors. Taking note of signs and symptoms that may precede the onset or accompany the headache, nausea or vomiting can help in identifying the exact cause. When these symptoms are worsening rapidly, accompanied by dizziness, difficulty breathing, loss of sensation, paralysis or loss of consciousness then immediate medical attention is necessary.


Migraine is a special kind of headache. Usually, the onset of migraine is preceded by some warning sign, such as an aura. Nausea may also be a warning sign of migraine. Nausea can also occur alongside migraine.

In severe cases of migraine, vomiting may also occur. Nausea and vomiting also occur with other types of headaches. However, they are more common in migraines. The symptoms of headache and nausea in migraine may be aggravated by certain physical stimuli such as bright light and loud noise.

Read more on headaches vs migraines.

Motion Sickness

Motion sickness refers to a feeling of nausea that is caused by movement. Vomiting and headaches may also occur during motion sickness. People who have a history of motion sickness are very susceptible to even the slightest movement that is perceived as unusual.

Hormonal Changes

Hormonal changes in women frequently cause nausea, vomiting and headaches. Hormonal fluctuations in women could be due to menstrual cycle, hormonal contraceptives, pregnancy, and hormonal replacement therapy (abbreviated as HRT). Headaches accompanied by nausea and vomiting are more likely to occur in women who have a history of premenstrual tension (abbreviated as PMT) or migraines.

A severe complication of pregnancy is hyperemesis gravidarum (also known as severe morning sickness), which is characterized by severe nausea, vomiting, electrolyte disturbance, and weight loss. This condition also affects the fetus adversely.

Drug Side Effects

Pharmaceutical drugs are known to cause different types of side-effects in many individuals. Nausea, vomiting and headaches are three of the most common side-effects of many pharmaceutical drugs. These symptoms may also be accompanied by other side-effects, such as dryness of the mouth. The use of anesthesia during surgery can also cause post-operative nausea, vomiting and headaches. Also, overuse of analgesics for treating headaches can lead to nausea and vomiting.

Withdrawal Symptoms

Cessation of intake of addictive substances such as narcotics, pharmaceutical drugs, alcohol, nicotine and caffeine by long-term addicts leads to withdrawal symptoms. These withdrawal symptoms may also include headaches, nausea and vomiting.


A variety of infections can cause headaches, nausea and vomiting. For example, infections of the central nervous system (such as meningitis and encephalitis) are very likely to cause headache, nausea, and vomiting. Other accompanying symptoms include mental confusion, fever, sleep disturbances and difficulty in concentrating.

Both general infections (such as seasonal influenza and septicemia) and local infections (such as viral gastroenteritis and upper respiratory tract infections) can cause headaches, nausea and vomiting. Food poisoning is also a common cause of nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and headache.

Head Trauma

Head injuries are also capable of causing headache, nausea and vomiting. These symptoms may occur even without concussion. A fall, motor vehicle collission, contact sports and assault are some of the ways in which head injuries may be sustained. Surgery to the head is also a form of trauma, albeit intentional.

Read more on traumatic brain injury.

Increased Intracranial Pressure

A sudden onset of headache, nausea and vomiting might indicate an increase in the intracranial pressure. Increased intracranial pressure could be caused by a variety of factors, including brain tumors, intracranial hemorrhage, and fluid accumulation inside the cranium.

Depending on the area of the brain that is affected, a variety of other accompanying symptoms may occur. Examples of some of these symptoms include mental confusion, hallucinations, sleep changes, memory disruption, sensory disturbances and disruption of motor functions.

Blood Glucose Imbalance

Both high blood sugar (technically referred to as hyperglycemia) and low blood sugar (technically referred to as hypoglycemia) are capable of causing headaches, nausea and vomiting. Inflammation of the pancreas (acute pancreatitis) can also cause headache, nausea, vomiting, changes in blood pressure, changes in heart rate, severe abdominal pain and sweating.

Thyroid disorders

Hypothyroidism and other thyroid disorders may also cause headaches, nausea and vomiting.


Headaches are also common in dehydration. Other symptoms of dehydration include nausea, vomiting, muscle cramps, changes in the color of urine, impaired mental functioning, and fever.

Lifestyle Factors

Certain lifestyle factors can make a person prone to suffering from frequent headaches, nausea and vomiting. Examples of such lifestyle factors include excessive exercise, excessive dieting, excessive consumption of nicotine, caffeine and alcohol.

Inner Ear Problems

Headaches and nausea may accompany inflammation of the inner ear. Other symptoms include dizziness, tinnitus, impaired balance, and unilateral hearing loss. Vomiting may or may not occur. Pain during inflammation of the inner ear may be felt in the temporal region of the head.

Spinal Injury

Headache, nausea and vomiting are typical symptoms in the acute stage of spinal injury, such as the T4 syndrome. Other accompanying symptoms may include numbness and tingling sensations in the back, neck and arm. Pain in the arm may also be present. Headache, nausea and vomiting may also be caused by other spinal injuries, diseases, and infections.


Stress, anxiety and depression can cause headache, nausea and vomiting in some cases.

Psychological Disorders

Certain psychological eating disorders, such as bulimia and anorexia nervosa, are characterized by voluntary induction of vomiting. Headaches, nausea and vomiting may also be caused by the use of certain psychotropic drugs in the treatment of psychiatric disorders.


Headaches, nausea and vomiting could also be precipitated by inhalation, ingestion, or absorption of toxins and poisons. Excessive intake of nutritional supplements, exposure to high radiation levels, and consumption of metals such as lead could also cause headache, nausea and vomiting.

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