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IBS: “Migraine of the Bowels”

People with migraine are more likely to have irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) than those who don’t have migraine, which is why migraine and IBS are called comorbid diseases. This connection is further supported by new research that will be presented at the American Academy of Neurology’s annual meeting in April. This study focused on the genetics and characteristics that are alike in IBS and migraine, as well as the ways in which they impact the body similarly.

The brain plays an important role in IBS, including dysfunction in the central nervous system’s processing and an increase in hypothalamic activity. These factors are also linked to stress. For all these reasons, lead researcher Derya Uluduz, MD, calls IBS “migraine of the bowels.”

Study participants included 107 people with migraine, 53 people with episodic tension-type headache, 107 people with IBS, and 53 healthy people.

Researchers used strict diagnostic criteria to determine whether patients had IBS. They found that 54.2% of participants with migraine had IBS. Looking at participants with IBS, researchers found that 35.5% had migraine. They also found that participants with IBS and migraine and/or tension-type headache had at least one gene that was different from healthy participants.

Although the study was not groundbreaking in the migraine world (the connection between IBS and migraine has long been known), the link is a good example of the gut-brain connection, according to headache specialist Teshamae S. Monteith, MD. She also pointed out that the genetic link appears to be connected to the serotonin system.

Patients who have both head pain and abdominal pain often feel like health care providers dismiss their complaints. Dr. Monteith said that the link between IBS and migraine indicates “biological vulnerability to pain,” not that patients are making up their symptoms. She urges doctors to check migraine patients for IBS and vice versa to ensure the best possible treatment.

Do you live with or want more information on IBS? Be sure to check out the IrritableBowelSyndrome.net community here.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The Migraine.com team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

  • Brooks, M. (2016, March 2). Migraine Linked to Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Retrieved from http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/859763 on March 4, 2016.
  • Paper to be presented at the 68th American Academy of Neurology (AAN) Annual Meeting, April 15-21, 2016. Abstract 3367.

Comments

  • shoegirl4444
    1 year ago

    I have both migraine and IBS. This study is very interesting and I’m anxious to hear of any more news regarding this topic.

  • dpasek
    1 year ago

    Any study that attempts to investigate IBS will have to control for two factors; caffeine consumption and Cytochrome P450 1A2 activity.
    Caffeine has known side effects including nervous irritability, muscle tics, heart palpitations, vascular headache from withdrawal, GERD, and IBS. P1A2 is the liver enzyme that detoxifies caffeine by demethylation, and the gene that codes for it has two polymorphisms, one of which is much less effective at detoxification of caffeine and many other substrates.

  • dpasek
    1 year ago

    BTW, I personally eliminated IBS by minimizing caffeine consumption and going low carb. I checked myself by using an elimination-challenge technique with known dosages of caffeine. I get all of the symptoms that I listed big time from only 25 mg of caffeine per day. They come on in less than a week, and abate in about 3 days after discontinuation. I do not get the symptoms at a dosage of 10 mg per day. So basically, I totally avoid anything that I know has significant amounts of caffeine including coffee, tea, and sodas. Chocolate has a little bit of caffeine, but mostly theobromine, which does not have the stimulant effect or the side effects. Some chocolate candy, like M&Ms, seem to have added caffeine, so beware. They don’t have to list it on the label. Makers of the good stuff (like artisan chocolate) don’t add caffeine.

  • Maddy
    3 years ago

    One other thought…given the connection stated here. There is a website called “thepowerofpoop” (lovely, eh?) Caters mostly to those with IBS, and some with colitis and other debilitating bowel disorders. One thing on the website is a set of instructions on how to do a DIY fecal transplant. I am not advocating, just sharing. I bother posting, only because some of the posters, obviously who suffered greatly with IBS (and let’s face it you don’t do a fecal transplant without being mighty motivated by suffering) claim they had complete or like 90% remission/improvement post-transplant. In the US medial/hospital fecal transplants are restricted to treating that aggressive fecal infection picked up in hospitals f.difficil. But in Europe apparently they do it for other things, like IBS (I think). At least one doctor somewhere (forgotten) claims to have cured diabetes in some patients with a fecal transplant. The powerofpoop website has all kinds of cautions, pick your fecal donor carefully, make sure they’ve not had antibiotics recently or infection, have their fecal matter scanned prior to transplant, etc. But if you have diagnosed IBS, and also migraines, and if they more or less “arrived” together into your life, you might want to investigate. My daughter does not have IBS, but she did suddenly get food allergies, which tells me the gut wall is not perfect and probably more permeable then it should be.

    Also, curiosity question, if anyone took a med for IBS, did it help your migraines?

  • ElenaS
    3 years ago

    I definitely suffer from both. I also see Dr. Monteith for my migraines and have benefited tremendously after I started treating with her. Right now I am taking Topamax and Metoprolol daily plus the Imitrex when the pain strikes. Magnesium daily because it never hurts. I went from relentless to manageable and from every day for weeks without let up to entire weeks without. So far, so good.

  • Maddy
    3 years ago

    I am convinced migraine is a neuro-endocrine(hormone) disorder. This article is fascinating. There of course is the vagus nerve, which goes directly from brain to gut. There is research linking Parkinsons to gluten sensitivity and they think the inflammation or problem literally migrates up the vagus. People with Parkinsons often get constipation 10 years prior to motor symptoms. There are LH receptors (pituitary hormone) in the gut, but they have no idea what it does with regard to the gut. 90% of your serotonin is in your gut. Topamax, raises adiponectin by 69% and lowers leptin by 39% – both of those are metabolic hormones (and why you loose weight on it). One migraine book I read said the hypothalamus evolved essentially in cave man days, and now we are asking it to deal with an environment with artificial light, food preservatives and levels of carbs/sugars we never ate, persistent high stress. Migraines often start in puberty, when hormone flux begins. I think everyone with migraines should have a complete endocrine workup, to find out if pituitary, reproductive, metabolic hormones are out of whack. I also suggest screening for MTFHR genes. Oh, I did hear there was some rare surgery where they cut the nerve, rarely done in extreme circumstances because I gather there can be side effects, but relief was had….just can’t remember if it was relief from gut or head ailments….

  • Kricket
    3 years ago

    A nurse friend of mine whose husband is a doctor, and I, used to discuss this all the time because we thought the two were related. It’s good to see that we weren’t crazy. I suffered with chronic migraines starting at age 11, and all through nearly 50 years it never changed. Many times I would have a migraine for a year or so at a time. Many, many ER visits for IV opioid therapy were had. I have developed several severe pain conditions (and developed IBS) over the years and am on very high doses of two opioids now and almost never get a migraine! At least one big pain is under control. I sympathize with all of you who have IBS and M’s.

  • Dori Fritzinger
    3 years ago

    My Hm can/does cause bouts of incontinence of bowels and/or bladder

  • 23r1c5h
    3 years ago

    I’ve often wonder if my diverticulitis is connected to my migraines, I know it’s a completely different area of the gut but it’s still a part of it. When my migraines are particularly bad, I’ve noticed I have pain and it can sometimes make my nausea even worse.

  • vitamin_migraine
    3 years ago

    A couple of years ago, I had lost too much weight on Topamax and was vomiting constantly. What I was not expecting was to find out I had a stomach hernia!! Since then I take PPIs and avoid acidic foods like oranges and tomatoes. I’ve noticed if my stomach gets upset, it drags my head within 24hrs. I’m a firm believer there’s a stomach/inflammation/migraine connection. Obviously, there are other causes too, but that’s a big one. I went from almost daily uncontrolled migraines to only once a week ones. If your stomach is constantly upset, go see a gastroenterologist and rule out ulcers and hernias, lactose or other food intolerances, etc.

  • Maddy
    3 years ago

    oooh, vitamin…how much Topamax were you on if you don’t mind me asking? my daughter just started 6 weeks ago, and is on 90mg, top dose for her, and is down 10 pounds from 136 to 126. Is it likely to continue a lot or did it stabilize for you? Topamax increases adiponectin (by a whopping 69%) and decreases leptin (by 39%) according to one study, which is why the weight loss. Adiponectin makes insulin more efficient and is an enhancer of metabolism. Leptin regulates hunger and other things.

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