Previous research has shown that people with gastrointestinal problems experience migraine and headache more frequently than people without those disorders. Now, research has shown that migraine and tension-type headache may share genetic links with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), the most common gastrointestinal disorder.

“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,” said study author Derya Uluduz, MD, of Istanbul University in Turkey.

Many people who suffer from IBS are not properly diagnosed and struggle with the chronic condition, which typically includes abdominal pain or cramping, a bloated feeling, gas, and diarrhea or constipation.

The study included 107 people with episodic migraine, 53 individuals with tension-type headache, 107 with IBS, and 53 who were healthy. Researchers found that 54% of those with migraine also had IBS, compared to 28% of those with tension-type headache. Of the participants with IBS, 38 had migraine, and 24 had tension-type headache.

Researchers then evaluated two genes related to serotonin and determined that those in the IBS, migraine, and tension-type headache groups had at least one gene that differed from the genes of the healthy participants.

“Further studies are needed to explore this possible link,” said Dr. Uluduz. “Discovering shared genes may lead to more future treatment strategies for these chronic conditions.”

The study, released in February, was presented this month at the American Academy of Neurology’s 68th Annual Meeting in Vancouver, Canada.