Your weight affects migraine frequency: Study

weight migraineGetting a splitting headache can ruin anyone’s day, and there is no other group of people knows this more than those afflicted by migraine headaches. There are several triggers and risk factors for a migraine, and your current weight plays a key role, according to a new study.

Migraine headaches affect nearly 12 percent of U.S. adults and can cause severe throbbing pain or a pulsing sensation, usually on one side of the head. It can also be accompanied by nausea and vomiting, and an extreme sensitivity to light and sound. Migraine attacks can cause head pain for several hours to multiple days, and it becomes quite debilitating. Some individuals may experience an “Aura” before a migraine headache starts, acting as a sort of warning sign. Auras are described as visual disturbances, like a flash of light or wavy vision.


A new review on this subject found a link between body weight and a risk of migraine headaches. They found that being either obese or underweight contributed to the risk.

“Those with a migraine and [their] doctors need to be aware that excessive weight and extreme weight loss are not good for [migraine sufferers], and that maintaining a healthy weight can decrease the risk of a migraine,” said study author Dr. B. Lee Peterlin, director of headache research at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore.

Dr. Peterlin and her team looked at a meta-analysis of 12 previously published studies encompassing nearly 300,000 people. They found that obese individuals were 27 percent more likely to have migraines than people who were normal weight. On the flip side, those who were underweight were 13 percent more likely. The researchers used BMI to categorize each weight class, using a BMI of 30 and above for obese people and a BMI of less than 18.5 for underweight.

The John Hopkins headache research team had previously done many migraine studies, and previous research demonstrated the link between obesity and migraines was greater for women and for those under the age of 55. The results of this new study reaffirmed this previous conclusion.
While a link between weight and migraines has been established, Dr. Peterlin admits she can’t explain this correlation with just the current information. She speculates that fat tissues are an endocrine organ and like other endocrine organs, such as the thyroid, too much or too little can result in problems. The change in fat tissue with extreme weight gain or weight loss may alter the function and production of several proteins and hormones, she goes on to say. This may alter the inflammatory environment in the body, possibly triggering a migraine.

The team of researchers wants to continue this path of study and find out why this association exists and how they can use it to improve migraine treatment in the future. They admit that they are not sure if weight loss or even weight gain will help chronic migraine sufferers, but hope to one day test this theory.

Related: How to identify a migraine

Author Bio

Emily Lunardo studied medical sociology at York University with a strong focus on the social determinants of health and mental illness. She is a registered Zumba instructor, as well as a Canfit Pro trainer, who teaches fitness classes on a weekly basis. Emily practices healthy habits in her own life as well as helps others with their own personal health goals. Emily joined Bel Marra Health as a health writer in 2013.


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