Skip to Accessibility Tools Skip to Content Skip to Footer

Episodic Migraine & Obesity, Gender, Age, Race

First things first: Many of the headlines about a new research study have said there is a connection between frequent Migraine attacks and obesity. But what do they mean by frequent? Not what you or I might think, that’s for sure.

As educated, empowered patients, we know there is episodic Migraine and chronic Migraine. Chronic Migraine is 15 or more days of headache a month. To me, the word frequent screams chronic. But the research study was actually about the connection between episodic Migraine and obesity. Confusing, I think, though certainly not the fault of the journal or study authors, but something I wanted to make clear for our readers.

Weight can be such a touchy subject, especially for women, who make up the vast majority of Migraineurs. But it’s important to note researchers are focusing on obesity because it’s a modifiable potential risk factor unlike, say, genetic predisposition. I truly believe there is no attempt to stigmatize obese people or Migraine patients involved in this research.

In this study of just 188 Migraine patients meeting the criteria for episodic Migraine, the researchers suspected the odds of a person experiencing episodic Migraine would be more likely among three groups:

  1. Women under age 50 (women of reproductive age are more likely to experience Migraine than other groups).
  2. White people.
  3. Women.

As with other studies examining obesity among women Migraineurs of reproductive age, the data supported these predictions.

Even with the best research studies there are always potentially limiting factors. This study included a  small sample size. Furthermore, the patients self-reported their height and weight, which is used for calculating body mass index, and Migraine attack frequency.  Finally, the number of black episodic Migraineurs in the study was so small the findings about white people being more likely to experience episodic Migraine may or may not bear out in future studies.

Fortunately, only patients who met the ICHD-II definition of episodic Migraine were included in the study. The ICHD is the gold standard across the globe for diagnosis of Headache Disorders.

So, What can you take away? Although we know exercise induces Migraine attacks for many people, maintaining a healthy weight may make a difference in attack frequency for people experiencing episodic Migraine. This is important not only to increase the likelihood you can function at any given time, but also to try to prevent the transformation from episodic to chronic Migraine. To combat the exercise issue, it’s important to start slowly and pace yourself. Further, calorie counting alone is an effective way to achieve and/or maintain a healthy weight, even if you cannot exercise in the traditional sense.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

1. B. Lee Peterlin, Andrea L. Rosso, Michelle A. Williams, Jason R. Rosenberg, et al. "Episodic Migraine and obesity and the influence of age, race and sex." Neurology. Published online before print September 11, 2013. doi: 10.1212/WNL.0b013e3182a824f7 Neurology 10.1212/WNL.0b013e3182a824f7.


  • AudreyB
    6 years ago

    Always interested to see possible connections among my three chronic conditions: obesity, migraine, and depression.

    The meds for each target similar brain chemicals, so I suspect a connection exists.

  • lara
    6 years ago

    I don’t know, my BMI is 21 (alterntates between 20.5 and 21), my hip to waist ratio is extremely healthy and my body fat is just fine. I’m 45 and obesity is not a factor. I also suffer from chronic migraine.

    No, I don’t have an eating disorder.

  • caradrouin
    6 years ago

    What does this really mean? I don’t mean to be offensive, but ask people to question. Always. (and really, I love statistics)

    –Obesity causes an increase in migraine….
    –Migraine causes obesity….
    –Migraine and obesity have a common cause…..

    How does this compare to Obesity and Disability? My guess is that it’s about the same. Decrease in shopping/food prep time also means less ability to make healthy dietary choices.

    How does this compare to Income/Obesity? What if that’s the real connection? This has already been established. Lower income Americans have greater obesity. Maybe this is what we are looking at. Do disabled people have lower incomes? Migraineurs often spend more money on meds. Anyone who pays out-of-pocket for triptans knows this can impact finances significantly. Migrainuers often have trouble working full time.

    These kinds of studies do not yield as much info as people like to think. Statistics are easy to generate, very difficult to interpret. Especially with nested variables.

  • Diana-Lee author
    6 years ago

    Any given study can only examine so many parameters. Yes, these are good questions, but to expect them all to be answered by one study isn’t realistic. We have to start somewhere and build and build on the data we get.

    The answer to your questions about cause and effect are that we don’t yet know.

    We do know disabled people have much lower incomes. But we’re not talking about disabled people / Migraineurs in this study. We’re talking about people with episodic Migraine.

  • simplygourdjus
    6 years ago

    Great info! Thank you.

  • Diana-Lee author
    6 years ago

    Thanks! I think this study could be an important building block in learning more about Migraine.

  • AmyBabee
    6 years ago

    Thanks Dana for the info. Who or what, if I may ask, is ICHD-II?

  • Diana-Lee author
    6 years ago

    ICHD is the diagnostic criteria for Headache Disorders established by the International Headache Society.

    I hope this helps!

  • Poll