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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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Comments

  • deborahvan-der-harst
    7 years ago

    The first thing that happened when I started getting migraines 2 years ago was that I was unable to endure even light exercise because it triggered migraines. I became completely inactive after having been very athletic. I was devastated. I quickly ballooned from 116 lbs. to 145 lbs. I felt insecure about my weight and blamed for it as well by the medical community.

    Recently I was prescribed Bystolic and three weeks later my migraines disappeared and they have not reappeared in over a month. Before Bystolic I suffered from daily intractable migraines. I began a diet exercise program and have lost 7 lbs and have begun to see muscle tone again. Bystolic has given me my active lifestyle back. I feel that I am one of the lucky ones. However, I would like to stress that exercise is very difficult for many migraine sufferers, even light exercise. There is not guarantee that I will never suffer from another migraine, but there is promise that the occurrence will be greatly reduced. I can live with that.

  • Marcy Inman Phillips
    7 years ago

    I trained for a couple of marathons about 6 years ago and my migraines nearly stopped. I was still overweight by about 20 pounds at that time. I stopped training, got out of shape and gained more weight and the migraines returned. Recently I’ve lost 29 pounds and started a 6 day a week exercise program. Guess what? After about 3 months the migraines are gone again. It might be related to physical conditioning more than obesity. Just a thought.

  • Monica Waggoner
    8 years ago

    There is one thing that I would like to point out, there are times that weight also can be caused by the medicines given to people with Migraines. Like some antidepressants cause patients to gain weight. But personally I know that the first thing all my doctors have worried about is my weight. Being over weight can be a matter of vanity for others, but for someone who is already suffering hypertension bc of the pain I have to be very careful.

  • Katie Robinson
    8 years ago

    My weight was 230 in 2009 and currently I weigh 188. During this time my migraines have increased in frequency and severity. I can agree that a more normal weight and regular exercise can benefit every/anyone, I am tired of extra weight being blamed for any medical issue that I may have. Most of the weight I have been trying to take off, is weight that I put on because it was medically necessary to give me steroids.

  • GodsGirl IsReal
    8 years ago

    so what’s my problem because I am definitely not over weight. I only weigh 123lbs.

  • Janice Worden Lamb Clemens
    8 years ago

    I have lost over 45 pounds and the headaches have not gotten any better, they have actually gotten worse…not that I plan on putting the weight back on, mind you, but I don’t see the weight connection…sorry!

  • Karen Stanley Haack
    8 years ago

    This is an old article….plenty of skinny people get migraines…….I know more skinny folks that get them then fat people……….do you have something against people that are overweight or just running out of articles to publish..I know it’s your own study but please…..It’s not a weight thing…….give us a break.

  • Migraine.com
    8 years ago

    Karen-Please see Ellen’s comment above regarding weight and migraines. It is important to note that Dr. Marcus referenced her own study in addition to multiple articles published by other researchers. Lastly, while we publish at least one new article per day, we also reference previous posts which many of our community members may not have seen. If you prefer to focus on the new material, we recommend viewing the first Facebook update of the day.

  • Julianne Zimmerman Alley
    8 years ago

    I think there’s a vicious cycle here that isn’t described. You have migraines, so you don’t feel like exercising, so you gain weight. You can’t lose that weight because you don’t feel like exercising, because exercising gives you migraines. So because you’re not exercising, your migraines are worse AND you carry extra weight. I think it’s much more complicated than just a simple relationship between migraine and weight.

  • Ellen Schnakenberg
    8 years ago

    Julianne, each patient is different, and there are likely to be different correlations with different people. I have known some Migrainous friends who needed to shed a few pounds. Exercising was a way of life for them just the same. The exercise is a powerful preventive, but losing a few pounds did seem to make them feel better and have less profound attacks. Coincidence or simply better diet? I can’t say. There is no way to make a blanket statement about Migraine however. I think much of what you have to say is true in the lives of many patients. Both are certain to have an impact on our lives…

  • Michelle Alley
    8 years ago

    Also was true for me.

  • Michele Mullaly
    8 years ago

    I am concerned about the “feeling of starvation:”…..and also I have a back and neck injury how am I suppose to exercise?

  • Carol O'Brien Bernatek
    8 years ago

    walk for 10 minute spurts if you can

  • Amrita Bhowmick
    8 years ago

    Michele – Check back soon for more in Ellen’s series on Exercise for Migraineurs (Part 1 is posted here: http://migraine.com/blog/exercise-and-migraine-part-1-what-it-is-and-what-it-isnt/) She will have some helpful ideas which are lower impact and may work for you….

  • Migraine.com
    8 years ago

    Dr. Marcus discusses the relationship between weight and migraines including her own research and an overview of recently published study results.

  • Ellen Schnakenberg
    8 years ago

    Remember too, that we are all different. What applies for one person may not apply for the next. I too am often underweight, yet suffer terribly with this condition. I’ve been 180 lbs, and I’ve been 102 lbs. Neither made a difference in my condition… but that was just me. You may be different! The best thing most doctors will suggest is to maintain good BMI and to keep your health at the optimal level to help minimize triggers. Exercise is also a wonderful preventive, but doing it right can be tricky…

  • Beth Mauer Mixer
    8 years ago

    That doesn’t make sense to me. I started getting migraines when I was woefully underweight. I am about 15 pounds overweight now and get them much less frequently. Of course, I did start using Fever Few a few years ago….

  • Kathy Sundeen Jacobs
    8 years ago

    This explains a lot!

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