Can Gallbladder Disease Cause Migraines?
Can Gallbladder Disease Cause Migraines?
If you have gallbladder disease, you may deal with side effects affecting your day-to-day life. But you’re not alone. Gallbladder disease is a common gastrointestinal disorder seen worldwide. However, it can lead to further complications if left untreated.
Common side effects of gallbladder issues include
- Abdominal discomfort and pain
- Nausea and vomiting
- Appetite loss
…But can gallbladder disease cause migraines?
Here, we’ll touch on the connection between your gallbladder health and migraines, and the risk factors that may lead to the development of migraines. Then, I’ll give you some recommendations on the best measures for treating the pain when it comes up.
As a holistic nutritionist specializing in gallbladder health, I strive to give you as much knowledge as possible so you can best take care of your body. I’ve dealt with gallbladder disease myself, but I’ve been able to minimize the symptoms that come with it by altering my lifestyle and making healthy diet modifications. And it’s the changes like these that can help reduce your chance of developing chronic illnesses or other debilitating conditions– like migraines.
To dive deeper into whether or not gallbladder problems cause migraines, let’s first look at migraines themselves.
What Is Considered A Migraine?
A migraine is a type of moderate to severe headache that can be present anywhere from 4 to 72 hours. Sometimes people with migraines experience them on more days than not.
Migraines often present as pulsated, one-sided headaches, and can come with:
- Light sensitivity
- Sensory disturbances or auras
Migraines are a leading cause of disability worldwide. 15% of Americans experience headaches, which can affect their quality of life and ability to participate in activities of daily living.1 Dealing with migraines is brutal, and those that suffer from them often have to learn to manage them for life.
Now let’s consider the risk factors for migraines…
- Women are 3 times more likely than men to have migraines1 (sorry ladies!)
- Genetics play a role in the development of migraines
- Ineffective treatment, obesity, and stressful life events are modifiable risk factors that can increase the risk of migraine development
Triggers for migraines can be food additives, caffeine, artificial sweeteners, and delayed or missed meals.1 So, sticking to a healthy, whole-food diet with limited processed foods or added sugars can be one of the best things to help you decrease your risk of developing migraines. Plus, these simple diet modifications can help improve so many other aspects of your life!
But back to our main question– is there really a connection between the gallbladder and developing migraines?
Connection Between the Gallbladder and Migraines
There are several reasons why someone may develop migraines. Now let’s touch on the gallbladder itself before looking at the relationship between gallbladder health and migraines.
The gallbladder is an organ that aids the digestive system in the breakdown of fats taken in from the diet. Gallstones in the gallbladder can cause severe pain and may lead to a risk for complications like pancreatitis or cholecystitis– the inflammation of the gallbladder.
Similar to migraines, gallstone disease is seen more often in women, and is associated with obesity and cardiovascular diseases.
Studies have been conducted to see if there’s a correlation specifically between gallbladder disease and migraines. And results do reveal that gallstone disease is related to the subsequent development of migraines.2
Further research shows that there is a relationship between the occurrence of migraines and biliary tract disorders like gallstone disease.3 Let’s take a deeper look at why this relationship may be present, specifically as it relates to hormones in the body.
Hormone Changes with Gallstone Disease and Migraines
Research shows that the predominance of migraines in women is related to the hormone estrogen, which can increase the dilation of blood vessels. When this dilation of blood vessels happens in the brain, it causes additional pressure and leads to headaches.2
High levels of estrogen can also upregulate gene expression and certain cellular signals in the body, which can intensify inflammation and neuropathic pain.2 An increased estrogen level is also a risk factor for developing gallbladder issues, so these two can go hand in hand.
The hormone cholecystokinin (CCK) and calcitonin gene-related peptide (CGRP) may also contribute to the mechanisms shared by migraines and gallstone disease. Gallstone disease patients may show a decreased plasma CCK A receptor level, which leads to issues with emptying the gallbladder, and this increases CCK levels in the blood.2 This study indicates that the increased CCK concentration can also dilate the blood vessels, possibly leading to migraine attacks.
Gallstone disease patients have an increased level of CGRP in their bloodstream. CGRP can aggravate CCK which decreases the gallbladder’s smooth muscle tone. CGRP and CCK can trigger migraines by increasing the blood flow to the brain.2
More results from this study indicate that gallstone disease is usually seen with other migraine-associated conditions like
- Coronary artery disease
These conditions can lead to the subsequent development of migraines. Dopamine and serotonin are the main neurotransmitters leading to mood-triggered symptoms of migraine. So the interaction between migraines and anxiety or depression relates headaches to issues in the serotonergic and dopaminergic systems.
Research tells us that the connection between the gallbladder and migraines may be related to similar risk factors, or it may be due to hormonal imbalances like those discussed here.
So we’ve learned that issues in the gallbladder and migraines can be correlated. The connection present between the gallbladder and migraines can also be attributed to complications arising from gallstone disease. And a common complication of gallstone disease is a gallbladder attack.
Do Gallbladder Attacks Cause Migraines?
With gallstone disease often comes gallbladder attacks. A gallbladder attack– or gallstone attack– happens when gallstones block the bile duct causing bile to build up in the gallbladder.4 Pain is usually most prominent in the upper right quadrant of the abdomen.
So does this gallbladder attack cause migraines? The short answer is that gallbladder attacks do not immediately cause migraines. Typically gallbladder attacks come with abdominal pain, fevers, nausea, or vomiting. But migraines themselves usually develop from other issues rather than just one attack.
Studies show that the risk of migraine is increased after a gallstone disease diagnosis. Plus, your risk for migraines is even higher when there’s a longer period you wait without a follow-up after being diagnosed with gallstone disease.2
If you have a gallstone attack, but don’t follow up appropriately with your doctor, your chances of developing migraines are said to increase.
So– we can’t say exactly that gallbladder attacks lead directly to migraines. However, the diagnosis of gallbladder disease definitely has implications on the likelihood of developing migraines.
Migraines After Gallbladder Removal
If you’re someone dealing with gallstone disease, your doctor may recommend gallbladder removal. This diminishes the painful and uncomfortable side effects of gallbladder attacks.
So you may be asking “do people still have migraines after gallbladder removal?”
The connection between the gallbladder and migraines has been studied with the correlating diagnosis of gallstone disease. If having your gallbladder removed can help rid you of gallbladder problems, it may help to rid your body of migraines, right?
Research does show that the risk of migraines diminished in patients after having a cholecystectomy– which is a gallbladder removal surgery.2 However, the migraine risk is greater in those gallstone disease patients– whether they had gone through gallbladder removal or not– compared to patients without gallstone disease. So even if the gallbladder had been removed, their risk factors still made them more susceptible to developing migraines compared to someone without a gallbladder disease diagnosis.
The moral of the story is gallbladder removal is not a quick fix. It still comes with taking care of your body pre- or post-surgery and nourishing it with foods that will help you manage your gallbladder disease symptoms the best.
If you’re someone with gallbladder disease struggling with migraines, here are some tips to help relieve you from your pain.
How to Get Rid of a Gallbladder Headache
A gallbladder headache may just feel like a normal headache. Dull pain, discomfort, or nausea can come from dealing with a gallbladder attack. However, if you continue to struggle with gallbladder disease and your headaches become more common or severe, you may want to see your doctor to discuss migraines.
Some tips on how to get quick relief from a gallbladder headache are
- Drink plenty of water
- Get rest
- Nourish your body with whole foods
- Avoid sugars
But to get rid of a gallbladder headache, and keep migraines away for good, you should examine your body and your diet holistically. As mentioned above– sugars, processed foods, caffeine, and food additives can be a trigger for migraines. And as someone dealing with gallbladder problems, your risk for triggering migraines is higher than for others.
Taking care of your body is the best way to prevent complications in your gallbladder.
- Avoid gallbladder-triggering foods
- Limit processed foods and sugary snacks
- Exercise and focus on healthy lifestyle modifications
- Consider supplements to help enhance your gallbladder health
- Seek guidance from a nutritionist who can set you up with a meal plan
As a holistic nutritionist myself, I educate others on all things gallbladder health. And I offer this guidance through one-on-one integrative nutrition counseling. I work with you individually so we can develop a plan based on your symptoms and needs to get you feeling your best ASAP.
Whether you’re someone dealing with migraines– or any other symptoms from gallbladder disease, I’m here to help. Connect with me to take initiative in your health, and prevent gallbladder disease complications!
Set up a call here so we can manage your gallbladder health together and give you the quality of life you deserve.
- Peters GL. Migraine overview and summary of current and emerging treatment options. Am J Manag Care. 2019 Jan;25(2 Suppl):S23-S34. PMID: 30681821.
- Chen CH, Lin CL, Kao CH. Gallbladder Stone Disease Is Associated with an Increased Risk of Migraines. J Clin Med. 2018 Nov 21;7(11):455. doi: 10.3390/jcm7110455. PMID: 30469346; PMCID: PMC6262500.
- Nilsson S, Edvinsson L, Malmberg B, Johansson B, Linde M. A relationship between migraine and biliary tract disorders: findings in two Swedish samples of elderly twins. Acta Neurol Scand. 2010 Oct;122(4):286-94. doi: 10.1111/j.1600-0404.2009.01310.x. Epub 2009 Dec 28. PMID: 20047569.