A study presented at the American Academy of Neurology (AAN)’s annual meeting showed that there was likely a genetic link between migraines, tension headaches, and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Since previous studies have shown a strong linkage between TMJ and IBS, it’s likely that all these conditions are linked together, sharing common risk factors, and, potentially, common treatments.
Pain from Head to Bowel
This study looked at a total of 320 people–107 had episodic (not chronic) migraines, 53 had tension headache, 107 had IBS, and 53 had none of the above conditions (healthy controls).They found that of the 107 who had migraines, 54% also had IBS. That was significantly more than the number of people with tension headache that had IBS, 28%. In looking at the patients who had IBS, 38 (35%) had migraines while 24 (22%).
In trying to discover possible genetic ties between the conditions, researchers looked at genes that controls serotonin receptor 2A, and found that people with all three conditions had at least one gene that differed from those of the healthy participants.
Let’s Not Get Too Hasty
When research results like this are reported, it’s important to understand the limitations of the research and its findings. First, we have to note that this paper was presented at a scholarly conference, not published in a scholarly journal. The standards for presentation at a conference are much lower than that for published scholarly papers. Often, the only level of review is looking at an abstract in order to determine whether the research is potentially interesting. It is put off until after the presentation for researchers to determine whether the results are valid or not.
Also, we have to note that the correlations here are just correlations. Researchers didn’t seek to explain exactly how the genes in question could contribute to the different conditions that study participants had.
And, finally, it’s important that the study doesn’t actually show that the potential link could lead to potential common treatments for all these conditions. It may be that although these conditions are linked developmentally, they may not be able to be treated together.
What we do know, though, is that TMJ, tension headache, and migraine can be treated together. We don’t know whether this will have any impact on IBS, but three out of four isn’t bad.