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Migraine Linked to Significantly Higher IBD Risk

People with migraine are at significantly increased risk for developing ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease.

Migraine is one of the leading causes of disability around the world in people under the age of 50. The condition is estimated to affect 47 million Americans, 75% of whom are women.

Migraine is comorbid with a wide variety of other conditions, including stroke, hypertension, depression, and anxiety.

A new study that appeared in the journal Scientific Reports looked at the link between migraine and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) — ulcerative colitis (UC) or Crohn's disease (CD).

IBD is an autoimmune condition characterized by chronic inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract. It can be triggered by a virus or bacteria, and genetics may also seem to play a role. The IBD symptoms include persistent diarrhea, abdominal pain, bloody stools, weight loss, and fatigue.

The new study included over 10 million people aged 20 years or older who were divided into two groups according to the presence or absence of migraine. Some 2.8% of the participants had migraine, and they were more likely to be older and female.

Participants with migraine were found to have a 1.3-fold higher risk of developing IBD than the general population. For instance, men and women with migraine had a 43% and 12% higher risk of ulcerative colitis, respectively.

How is migraine and IBD linked?

Previous research has suggested possible mechanisms explaining the link between migraine and IBD development based on the gut–brain axis.

Some proinflammatory cytokines that are increased during migraine attacks play a critical role in the development of IBD.

Dysbiosis — an imbalance in bacterial composition within the gut — is known to be involved in both migraine and IBD. Moreover, psychological and physical stressors could result in changes in the gut microbiota profile, leading to alterations in intestinal permeability.

Western diet is associated with the occurrence of migraine and the development of IBD. According to some studies, a diet rich in citrus fruits, processed meat, gluten, chocolate, coffee, and alcohol are dietary risk factors for both migraine and IBD.

However, the study could not evaluate the link between the severity of migraine and IBD occurrence. Moreover, the impact of migraine medications on the risk of IBD also couldn't be identified.

For instance, NSAIDs, or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, are effective in treating migraine attacks but can affect intestinal permeability and inflammation.

Who is most at risk for IBD?

Further research is needed to determine whether migraine could be considered a risk factor for IBD. Meanwhile, existing evidence suggests that some people populations are more at risk of developing inflammatory bowel disease:

  • Most people receive the IBD diagnosis before they're 30 years old.
  • The condition is more common in white people, although cases are increasing in other races and ethnicities.
  • Having a close relative with IBD increases the risk of developing the condition.
  • Cigarette smoking is the strongest environmental risk factor for Crohn's disease.

According to the study authors, clinicians should be aware of the potential risk of IBD in patients diagnosed with migraine.


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