Headache and IBS: A Potential Link

Migraine, tension headaches may share genetic link with irritable bowel syndrome

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) A relationship between headaches and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)? Surprisingly, there may be one.

A new study from Turkey found that migraines, chronic tension headaches and IBS may all share a genetic link.

Lead study author Derya Uluduz, MD, said in a press release, "Since headache and irritable bowel syndrome are such common conditions, and causes for both are unknown, discovering a possible link that could shed light on shared genetics of the conditions is encouraging." Dr. Uluduz is a neurologist at Istanbul University in Turkey.

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is one of the most common gastrointestinal conditions, according to MedlinePlus. Commonly found in patients under the age of 45, it is more likely to affect men than women. Typical symptoms include cramping, bloating, diarrhea and constipation. The cause is unknown.

Dr. Uluduz and team looked at more than 300 patients. These patients fell into one of four groups: episodic migraine, tension headache, IBS or none of the above.

Researchers then asked the patients with headaches about any IBS symptoms they had experienced. They also asked the patients with IBS about headache symptoms.

Almost one-third of IBS patients also had migraines. About one-quarter had tension headaches. Migraine patients were about twice as likely to have IBS compared to tension headache patients.

Dr. Uluduz and team then studied genes related to a chemical called serotonin in the brain. They found that patients in the IBS and headache groups had at least one gene that was different from those of healthy patients.

Researchers said this genetic link could open possible new avenues for developing treatments for all three conditions.

"Further studies are needed to explore this possible link," Dr. Uluduz said. "Discovering shared genes may lead to more future treatment strategies for these chronic conditions."

This study was presented Feb. 23 at the American Academy of Neurology's 68th Annual Meeting. Research presented at conferences may not have been peer-reviewed.

Mersin University funded this research. Information on conflicts of interest was not available at the time of publication.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
February 22, 2016
Last Updated:
February 23, 2016