The primary connection between heartburn and headache is that medications used to treat each condition may lead to the other. Foods may also have this effect, as in the case of caffeine. In some medical conditions, a headache and heartburn may occur together, although this is usually caused by treatment of the condition rather than by the illness itself. One exception is irritable bowel syndrome, which very occasionally may cause headaches in sufferers.
Most people suffer from heartburn and headache pain on occasion. These conditions normally exhibit themselves separately and are unrelated, but when certain medications are used, both may be experienced together. Many migraine medications have been known to list headache as a side effect. Additionally, some heartburn treatments can also lead to mild to severe headaches if taken long-term or in large amounts.
There are also foods which link heartburn with headaches. Caffeine, for instance, has been shown to reduce migraine pain in some people, but has also been linked to digestive upset including heartburn. This is especially true in drinks like soda and coffee, both of which are irritants to the stomach and esophagus. Patients who use caffeine to treat headache pain may need to find alternate treatments if heartburn is the result. The effectiveness of using caffeinated foods and drinks for this purpose does not usually outweigh the potential discomfort of heartburn or indigestion.
In some rare cases, patients who suffer from irritable bowel syndrome have reported frequent headaches as part of their symptoms. This is not necessarily a side effect of the syndrome itself, but may be caused by the stress sufferers of the condition deal with. Once dietary changes are made and digestive upset is lessened, headaches often subside without further treatment. An over the counter medication may be used in the meantime.
Sometimes both heartburn and headache can be associated with stress. Severe anxiety can cause both conditions if not treated. It causes both an increase in stomach acid formation as well as tension, creating the perfect scenario for heartburn and headache-related pain. Treatment may include over the counter medications to alleviate symptoms, as well as therapy or prescription drugs to treat the root stressors. Normally, once anxiety has been alleviated, both symptoms will also go away.
Occasionally a medication for a non-related condition will cause headaches and heartburn or indigestion. If this occurs and does not lessen over time, patients may need to be switched to an alternate medication. Sometimes this is not possible and additional drugs may be needed to combat uncomfortable side effects.