What Causes Abdominal Migraines?

By Annette GallagherDecember 21, 2018No Comments

What Causes Abdominal Migraines?

Abdominal migraines are painful to endure, and depending on the severity of the symptoms, can severely disrupt daily functioning. Although the cause of this often-debilitating condition is not clear-cut, there are treatments available that can reduce the severity and frequency of the symptoms.

What are Abdominal Migraines?

Abdominal migraines are characterized by pain in the center of the abdomen that can range from mild to severe and last anywhere from an hour to several days. The pain is typically located in the middle of the abdomen and may be accompanied by nausea, vomiting, cramping, and pale skin color. The condition is rare in adults and mostly affects children between the ages of two and 10, but can also occur in older children and teens. Although abdominal migraines do not affect the head, they are considered to be a migraine variant due to the fact that they produce symptoms similar to those experienced during a migraine headache, with the pain occurring in the abdomen rather than the head. Children with the condition often grow out of it but tend to develop migraine headaches as adults.

Abdominal Migraine Causes

Although the cause of abdominal migraines is not well understood, the risk is greater in children who have a family history of migraine headaches. It is believed to be partly genetic, with symptoms sometimes being triggered by certain foods or emotional stress. Chocolate triggers symptoms in some children, along with foods containing monosodium glutamate (MSG) or nitrites. Stress and anxiety may also play a role in initiating abdominal migraine attacks and should be kept at a minimum whenever possible. Other possible causes include alterations involving the neurotransmitter serotonin, hormonal changes or imbalances, and levels of histamine in the body. Sleep often relieves the symptoms, but since they can be debilitating when they occur, they can negatively impact a child’s performance in school and social activities.

Abdominal Migraine Treatments

Treatment options are available at National Headache Institute and center around reducing the symptoms of an acute attack and preventing or reducing the severity of future attacks. Treatment plans are individualized and depend on factors such as the age of the patient, personal triggers, and how well a patient responds to medications and treatment.


While no particular medicine has been identified to relieve symptoms in all patients, certain medications have been shown to reduce the severity of abdominal migraine symptoms and the frequency of future episodes. These medications include:

  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) such as Ibuprofen.
  • Acetaminophen, which is found in medicines such as Tylenol.
  • Medications that belong to a class of drugs known as selective serotonin receptor agonists, such as sumatriptan.
  • Tricyclic antidepressants.
  • The antiseizure medication, Depakote.
  • Low-doses of aspirin and beta blockers.
  • Lifestyle Changes and Other Treatments

Other treatments largely involve lifestyle changes such as reducing stress, getting enough sleep and exercise, and eating a healthy diet. Not all patients have identifiable food triggers, but those who do need to avoid the foods that trigger symptoms. Relaxation techniques may also be helpful in reducing the severity and frequency of symptoms.

Vestibular Migraine Diet

The vestibular migraine diet is useful for identifying the foods that trigger migraine symptoms so they can be permanently removed from the diet. Although the diet was developed to help those with vestibular migraines identify offending foods, it’s also useful when attempting to identify potential triggers of abdominal migraine symptoms. A vestibular migraine is a migraine variant in which the symptoms don’t always manifest as a headache but instead produces dizziness or unsteadiness. The diet consists of plain meat, vegetables, rice, pasta or potatoes, and water. Once all other foods have been eliminated from the diet, they can be added back in one at a time to see which ones may be responsible for triggering symptoms. Many people find the diet hard to follow due to its many restrictions, but as each food is added back in and determined to be safe to eat, the diet becomes less challenging to follow.

The vestibular migraine diet eliminates many foods that are believed to trigger migraine symptoms, such as the following:

  • Cheese and other dairy products
  • Caffeine and alcohol
  • Processed meats, MSG, and pickled foods
  • Nuts and peanut butter
  • Items baked with yeast
  • Certain fruits such as citruses, bananas, pineapples, avocado, and figs

Although the list appears to be long, foods can gradually be incorporated back into the diet once it’s been eliminated as a trigger food.

Contact the National Headache Institute

An abdominal migraine produces symptoms that are just as debilitating as a traditional migraine and are just as damaging to your or your child’s quality of life. The National Headache Institute specializes in diagnosing and treating traditional and abdominal migraines as well as other types of headaches and offers an individualized approach to treatment. Contact us for a consultation and let us help you or your child find relief from the pain of abdominal migraines and develop an individualized treatment plan that addressed you or your child’s individual needs. We offer many different treatment options and are dedicated to identifying the ones that produce the most effective results.