Weight and your migraines

Let’s face it — most of us could stand to lose a few or more than a few pounds. Obesity has become a worldwide epidemic, with over two-thirds of adults in the United States and Europe overweight or obese. Excess weight is more than a cosmetic issue. Obesity has been linked to increased risk for a wide range of health problems — including migraines.

Several years ago, I published a study in the Clinical Journal of Pain, called “Obesity and the impact of chronic pain.” In this study, 272 patients seeking treatment for chronically painful conditions were evaluated for pain characteristics and weight. This study found that overall pain severity and pain frequency were similar among patients who were normal weight, overweight, or obese. But as weight increased, the impact and disability associated with the pain became progressively worse.

After this article was published, I received an excited call from headache researcher, Richard Lipton, who was fascinated by this link and subsequently published a large survey of nearly 19,000 migraine sufferers. In this study, Dr. Lipton likewise found that migraine disability increased as weight increased, with some disability reported for 32 percent of normal-weight migraine sufferers, 37 percent of overweight migraineurs, and 41 percent of very obese migraine sufferers. He also has linked obesity to the change from intermittent migraines to very frequent, daily, or chronic migraine.

The latest issue of the journal Headache expands on this earlier research by once again linking excess weight and migraine. In the new study published in the April issue, women were more likely to have migraine if they were obese. Compared with normal weight women, obese women were about twice as likely to have migraine, with the risk increasing as weight increased. Furthermore, women who had had migraines as children were over one and one-half times more likely to have gained excess weight as young adults compared with women who didn’t have childhood migraine.

These studies show us that excess weight is an important factor for migraine sufferers. Being overweight didn’t cause you to have migraines and losing weight won’t make your migraines go away. But excess weight is likely to be making your migraines worse. If you are overweight — and most of us are — you might want to add dieting strategies and daily exercise to your migraine-management routine. Losing weight won’t make you migraine-free, but it may help knock back the disability that goes along with having migraines.

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