Causes of a Headache and Nausea

Headaches accompanied by nausea can be caused by any number of reasons, from brain abnormalities to food sensitivities. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) recommends that patients keep a diary of their headaches and when they felt sick to their stomach so that doctors can look for a pattern to diagnose the condition. Migraine headaches, which are characterized by a throbbing pain, cause nausea at the same time. The NIH reports that 11 out of 100 people will experience severe migraine headaches with nausea at some time in their lives.

Is This an Emergency?

If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, seek emergency treatment immediately.

Abnormal Brain Activity

Abnormal patterns in brain activity can trigger migraine headaches and nausea. The NIH reports that nerve pathways in the brain become disrupted and cause the headaches and nausea. The nerves become inflamed and the pressure creates the pain and nausea. The triggers vary from person to person and must be monitored to find the individual causes. Some known causes of headaches include alcohol consumption, bright lights and allergies. Stress, hormonal changes and certain odors also can cause the painful headaches. Food known to be involved in migraine development include processed food and baked goods, dairy products and nuts. Food additives such as MSG and nitrates may be the culprits for the pain.


The National Headache Foundation reports that children often experience headaches and nausea as the result of a viral or bacterial infection. The sudden onset of a severe headache and vomiting should be checked out immediately to rule out meningitis or encephalitis, where the brain becomes inflamed and swollen as a result of an infection that causes encephalitis. The infection often is caused by a mosquito bite. With meningitis, the fluid and tissue surrounding the brain become infected, most often following another illness such as the flu or an ear infection. In addition to headaches and nausea, other symptoms often present with encephalitis include tremors, personality changes and coma. Meningitis also presents with dizziness, vision changes and sleepiness.


An aneurysm occurs when a blood vessel surrounding the brain becomes dilated. The swollen artery creates headache and nausea and can continue growing to a balloon-like size and eventually burst, resulting in coma and death. Doctors at the Skullbase Institute report that weakened walls around the brain typically cause aneurysms. Some weakening around the brain wall is congenital and continues to worsen as the person ages. Other contributing factors include smoking, arteriosclerosis and excessive use of alcohol.