Current treatment for migraines is eclectic by necessity of the mystery of the disease, and includes everything from antidepressants to beta blockers to highly potent painkillers. None of it is entirely effective. It’s hard to treat a disease you don’t understand and current theories as to the elusive cause of this disease fall way short of comprehensive.
A study published in Nature Genetics suggests that maybe, for migraines and a number of other illnesses, we’ve been looking for causes in all the wrong places. A University of Chicago team, led by genetics researcher Andrey Rzhetsky, found that the current and widely accepted International Classification of Diseases (ICD), and other methods of classifying disease based on observable symptoms and presentations, are in fact missing important connections.
For instance, the ICD9 currently classifies migraines, which the World Health Organization estimates afflicts 17% of women and 7% of men worldwide, as a disease of the central nervous system. But Rzhetsky’s team’s approach found migraines to be much more correlated with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) genetically, and cystitis (bladder inflammation) and urethritis (urethra inflammation), environmentally.
According to the study’s authors, this “suggests that migraine is associated with general, not nervous system-specific, inflammatory processes and can possibly be mitigated with some of the treatments that have been developed for inflammatory diseases.” And since recent research indicates an immune component to both IBS and cystitis/urethritis, the study also, “suggests that migraine etiology cause is closely associated with immune system function and that the established disease taxonomy needs revision.”
The “genetic” and “environmental correlations” in the study don’t refer to the makeup of the diseases themselves. Rather, the findings indicate that IBS and migraines, for example, tend to both show up in people who share genetic similarities in the same patterns, suggesting a genetic correlation. Furthermore migraines and cystitis/urethritis are experienced by people in similar environments and therefore seem to be environmentally correlated. Or to put it another way, the study suggests current classification methods based solely on the symptoms of those diseases may miss correlations between any given diseases found among individuals who are either related, or live in the same household.