When the stomach's yearning for food, heads can start aching as well. And it can happen more often among people with stomach problems.
New research shows that patients with serious aches in the belly are more prone to headaches than healthy individuals.
This shows the need to screen migraine patients for chronic stomach conditions, such as celiac disease and inflammatory bowel disease.
The aim of the study, led by Alexandra Dimitrova, MD, from the Department of Neurology at the Neurologic Institute of New York at Columbia University Medical Center, was to see how often patients with inflammatory bowel disease and celiac disease have headaches compared to healthy patients.
Patients were surveyed between April 2010 and September 2011 on their symptoms and demographic information as well as their diet including caffeine and alcohol intake. Researchers also asked patients what kind of headaches they have and how often they occurred.
The study included 188 patients with celiac disease, 111 with IBD, and 25 with a gluten sensitivity who were recruited from celiac disease support groups along the East and West Coast and the Celiac Disease Center at Columbia University. They were compared to 178 healthy patients.
Patients who had head trauma, neck injuries and brain tumors in the past were among those excluded from the study.
Researchers screened patients for headaches using the ID-Migraine screen tool and the Headache Impact Test, which also tracks any changes in headaches.
They found that among patients with celiac disease and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), 30 percent and 23 percent respectively reported having chronic headaches. At the same time, 56 percent of patients who were sensitive to gluten also reported having serious headaches long-term.
Compared to healthy patients, the odds were 2.66 times greater among patients with IBD to have migraines. About 30 percent of them said their headaches were severe.
However, the odds were 3.79 times greater among celiac disease patients to have a migraine, and 72 percent of them felt their migraine was severe.
"Interestingly, the prevalence of migraine among patients with IBD is similar to that of celiac disease patients," researchers said in their report.
"This may imply a general migraine-generating inflammatory mechanism common to both celiac disease and IBD; however, we cannot rule out the presence of a gluten antibody-mediated mechanism of migraine in celiac disease."
Women and patients with depression or anxiety are significantly more likely to have serious headaches. However, being older than 65 helps protect patients from migraines.
Future research should look at how a gluten-free diet affects headaches among those with celiac disease. The authors note that the healthy patients in the study demographically did not match the IBD and celiac disease patients.
They also did not get patients' full headache history and relied on patients accurately answering the surveys.
The study was published online November 5 in Headache: The Journal of Head and Face Pain. No financial support was reported.
One of the authors received personal compensation for working as a speaker and serving on the advisory board of various companies that may be a conflict of interest to the study. The other authors do not report any other conflicts.