Could link between IBS and migraine provide relief to patients?

by Michael Fronstin | Apr 5, 2016

For patients suffering from chronic health conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and migraines, relieving and managing symptoms can be a challenge as the causes of these conditions are not well defined. While IBS is associated with a low mortality rate, symptoms can be very burdensome to patients’ day-to-day lives, and patients may suffer from a wide range of comorbidities.

Roughly 8% of U.S. adults responding to our National Health and Wellness Survey (NHWS) self-reported they have IBS. It is estimated that only 30% of those who suffer from IBS seek medical attention, leaving a sizable percentage of sufferers undiagnosed. For those who do seek medical attention, the diagnosis and management of IBS can be challenging due to the lack of a diagnostic marker and effective treatment options for IBS.1,2

The fact that the cause of IBS is unknown, coupled with the lack of effective prescription medications currently in the market, makes managing the condition difficult. Roughly 25% of sufferers (IBS with diarrhea (IBS-D), IBS with constipation (IBS-C), or IBS mixed) reported that their symptoms are very or extremely bothersome. More than half of patients suffer from symptoms anywhere from several times a week to daily, which affects their quality of life, sleep, personal relationships, travel, diet and sexual functioning.3 Those suffering from IBS may experience comorbidities including headache, migraine, pain, allergies, anxiety, depression and insomnia.

NHWS shows that adults suffering from IBS are more likely to experience these comorbidities than people without IBS. Our research found patients diagnosed with IBS-C to be more than twice as likely to suffer from migraines, and also much more likely to suffer from headaches, than people who are not diagnosed with IBS.

Percentage of adults diagnosed with migraine and headache by IBS status
Percentage of adults diagnosed with migraine and headache by IBS status

Recent research has suggested that there may be a link between tension headaches, episodic migraines and IBS. This discovery between the genetics of these conditions is encouraging as the causes for both headaches and IBS are currently unknown. As noted by the American Academy of Neurology News the results of a preliminary study on the possible link between these three conditions will be presented at their 68th Annual Meeting later this month. Results from this study are highly anticipated as they could lead to further discoveries regarding shared genes between IBS, tension headaches and migraine and to the development of more effective strategies for future treatment options.


  1. Inadomi JM, et al.  “The Economic Impact of Irritable Bowel Syndrome.”, Ailment Pharmacol Ther. 2003;18(7)  http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/463175 (Retrieved 1/7/2015).
  2. Clin Epidemiol. 2014; 6: 71–80., Published online 2014 Feb 4. doi:  10.2147/CLEP.S40245, PMCID: PMC3921083’ The epidemiology of irritable bowel syndrome
  3. Kantar Health. National Health and Wellness Survey, 2015 [US]. Princeton, NJ.

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