Updated 07 August 2017

Genes may link headaches and IBS

The discovery of a possible genetic link between irritable bowel syndrome and headaches is encouraging, say researchers.

Genetic links may exist between irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and migraine and tension-type headaches, researchers report.

Possible new treatments

"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," study author Dr Derya Uluduz said in a news release from the American Academy of Neurology.

The findings might help point to new treatments for all of the disorders, suggested Uluduz, of Istanbul University in Turkey, and colleagues.

Read: Irritable bowels? Try to relax

The study included 107 people with migraine, 53 with tension-type headache, 107 with IBS and 53 without any of the conditions.

People with migraine were about twice as likely as those with tension headache to also have IBS – 54 percent versus 28 percent, respectively. Of the people with IBS, 38 also had migraine and 24 also had tension headache, the investigators found.

The researchers then focused on genetics, in particular, the serotonin transporter gene and the serotonin receptor 2A gene. The study authors found that people with IBS, migraine or tension headache had at least one gene that differed from those of people without any of the disorders.

Read: Psychological therapy can improve IBS symptoms

The findings were released online and are scheduled for presentation in April at the American Academy of Neurology's annual meeting in Vancouver, Canada. The data and conclusions should be considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed medical journal.

Condition often goes undiagnosed

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

IBS – which causes symptoms such as abdominal pain, cramping, a bloated feeling, gas, diarrhoea or constipation – is the most common gastrointestinal disorder worldwide, the researchers said. It affects as many as 45 million Americans. The exact cause of the chronic condition is unknown, and many people goes undiagnosed.

Read more: 

What is IBS?

Symptoms of IBS 

Causes of IBS