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Weight and migraines – What’s the real relationship?

Let’s face it – many of us could stand to lose a few pounds. And most of us don’t like to admit to carrying around extra pounds. A study published in the journal Headache1 found that when people with migraine were asked to report their weight, their self-reports were significantly lower than what researchers found when they put these same people on a scale. But facing weight is important. The latest statistics from the National Institutes of Health2 report that two in every three Americans are overweight or obese. According to World Health Organization3, excess weight is a worldwide epidemic, listing excess weight as the fifth leading cause of global deaths. Excess weight increases your risk for a range of serious health problems, including diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. Excess weight is also a risk factor for a wide range of chronic pain conditions.

Skinny people also get migraines and weight problems don’t cause you to become someone with migraines, but obesity is connected with pain severity. Increased weight is linked with increased sensitivity to pain. Fat cells release a range of chemicals, called cytokines, that increase inflammation and also change the pain response. Several articles have recently described a link between migraine and obesity, including a review articles in the journals Current Pain and Headache Reports4 and  Revue Neurologique 5and a patient resource published in the journal Headache.6

  • People who are obese have a higher risk of having migraines
  • People who are obese are at higher risk for the progression to more frequent or chronic migraine
  • Weight loss appears to result in migraine improvement

In addition, a new study called the Women’s Health and Migraine (WHAM)7 trial is underway that aims to better understand the role of weight loss for reducing migraine frequency. Losing weight won’t cure your migraines, but it may make them less severe and help prevent you from developing more frequent attacks or chronic migraine.

But decreasing weight can be tough. A recent article from PLOS One 8offers insight into successful a novel weight loss strategy. Researchers compared online social media networking through Facebook with obesity. In general, people accessing activity-related areas were 12 percent less likely to be overweight or obese. People accessing television-related areas, on the other hand, had a 4 percent higher rate of overweight and obesity. So check where you’re spending your social media time. Try trading looking at sedentary pursuits with more physically demanding activities and see if that helps boost your weight loss.


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. 2. 3. World Health Organization 4. 5. 6. 7. 8.


  • lara
    5 years ago

    I’m sorry but studies like these are of absolutely no use to me.

    I am not obese.

    I am not overweight.

    I am not even close to approaching overweight in any of the measuring standards used in medicine or fitness.

    And there is this constant need in medicine lately to blame anything and everything on obesity. It leaves those of us who are not overweight and if anything are barely into the healthy weight category out in the cold.

    My disability and pain levels are severe. It’s not caused by fat cells, I’m sorry. They need to keep looking. They should keep looking and they should stop insulting our intelligence.

    This is correlation not causation.

    The reason stuff like this gets funded is because the government goes “ooh obesity studies” and gives it the go ahead.

    In another 10-20 years this is all going to go in the junk science pile along with aluminum causing Alzheimers. It’s just… so so much wasted time and money and it’s leaving people in pain.

  • Denise
    6 years ago

    I am on a few medications for preventative headaches which are causing me to gain weight. I have been excercising every morning for 45 minutes and watching what I eat, but I am still struggling with losing weight. Its a lose-lose situation, because if I come off of the drugs, the headaches will get worse. So right now I am stuck with the side-effects of the meds. Anyone else having this difficulty???

  • body
    6 years ago

    Nice article on a sensitive subject. Obesity is considered to be a modifiable risk factor for the progression of episodic to chronic migraine. Although there are many variables such as the side effects of some medications that promote weight gain, the more we know about risk factors like obesity and how we can reduce them from increasing the frequency and severity of our migraine attacks, is great.

  • Dr Marcus author
    6 years ago

    Thanks Sharron.

  • caradrouin
    6 years ago

    People who are obese have a higher risk of having migraines
    People who have migraines are at a higher risk of becoming obese.

    Positive correlation does not always indicate causality.

  • Dr Marcus author
    6 years ago

    Association and causality are definitely different, which is why studies showing migraine improvement with weight reduction are so important. I think it’s similar to the data on smoking and migraines. Migraines are also more common and severe in smokers vs. non-smokers. I’ve had a number of patients whose migraines improved with quitting smoking, but never anyone “cured.” Likewise, obesity clearly does NOT cause migraines, but it may be making your migraines worse and reducing weight has numerous important health benefits, including, potentially, reducing (but not curing) migraines. In my practice, I always found no one lifestyle change made a big difference and for most people, it was a matter of making a number of lifestyle changes, each producing a small change. Adding all of those small changes together, however, often amounts to a big improvement.

  • caradrouin
    6 years ago

    You say Migraineurs under report their weight…. This means little without knowing how many and to what extent non-migraineurs under and over report their weight and by how much.

    I ask people how much they weigh all the time because I have a pony and a cart; passenger weight affects the balance differently over different terrain, so I have to have a ball park figure to plan our route. I figure most people save off 5-10 pounds, but that is not enough to matter. If I feel uncomfortable asking certain people, they are too heavy for my pony anyway.

  • Dr Marcus author
    6 years ago

    You are absolutely correct — studies also show that people in general under-report their weight. The study I mentioned, interestingly, only looked at migraineurs. I agree that most of us try to report at least 5-10 pounds less than what the scale would read. I thought this study was interesting because it helps to show that it’s hard to be honest about your weight — even when you know someone’s going to double-check you.

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