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The Weight of Migraine

The Weight of Migraine

Migraine wreaks havoc on so many aspects of our lives. Whether it is our social calendar, our professional career, or time with family, migraine often calls the shots and impacts how we move through the world. A major and common way that migraine creates chaos is on the bathroom scale. There are many reasons that this is the case.

Medications

Countless medications that are prescribed as migraine preventatives have weight gain as a side effect. Many of us are prescribed an antidepressant, including the popular SSRI drugs, in an effort to ward off migraines or for depression, a common comorbid condition to migraine. Experts say that for up to 25% of people, these drugs cause a weight gain of 10 pounds or more. I was prescribed one of these medications, which had no impact on my pain, yet led to a gain of more than 30 pounds in two months. Even for those who have a positive response on the migraine front, a significant weight gain can be hard to accept. No one wants to choose between obesity and being migraine free. On the other hand, other medications can cause weight loss. A well-known migraine preventative, Topamax, has weight loss as a primary side effect. For those who are thin to begin with, significant weight loss may be dangerous.

Nausea and vomiting

Many migraineurs struggle with severe and/or frequent nausea and vomiting. This can cause people who are thin to struggle to stay nourished and healthy.

Dietary restrictions

Often, migraineurs eliminate foods and drinks from their diet that are migraine triggers. These can include dairy, caffeine, red meat, alcohol, gluten, sugar, and more. Sometimes we limit our intake of potential triggers to the point where it can be difficult to find foods that don’t trigger an attack. It takes major time and effort to fully educate oneself about nutrition in order to maintain a healthy and balanced diet.

Food as comfort

Migraine causes incredible pain. It is easy to turn to food as comfort to get us through a particularly hard attack. When we feel out of control of the pain, we might justify that we deserve something that tastes good, or sweet, or otherwise helps satiate us. It feels good to be in control of what we put in our mouths. I went for an entire year having a piece of chocolate pie every day in the middle of the day as a way to give myself a break and indulge in something pleasant for 5 minutes. I believed I was taking care of myself. In a way, I was. But I was also doing a job on my waistline.

Exercise limitations

For many of us, exercise, especially high-impact aerobic exercise that increases our heart rate, can trigger an attack. For others, even a low impact walk around the block can exacerbate pain. These limitations can make it very difficult to find or maintain a healthy balance between caloric intake and calories burned. It can be emotionally frustrating to be sidelined from physical exertion, especially when the desire to be active is there.

Finding balance and accepting our limitations

There are clearly many issues that lead to migraines tipping the scale one way or another. Given that reality, the key might be to strive for a balance between accepting where we are and striving for health as much as possible.

In the end, perhaps the best we can do is to gently accept that migraine is a part of our life, even with the attendant limitations and pain. This acceptance might serve to let us off the hook so that we don’t feel as bad when we can’t regularly exercise or eat a balanced diet. Feeling bad about feeling bad gets us nowhere.

Healthy goals

Striving for healthy goals, even with the tough reality of migraine, is a worthy endeavor. We can push ourselves to be conscious of what we eat. We can put forth effort with our migraine specialists to keep trying new medications that have the least troublesome side effects. We can seek ways to take care of ourselves outside of unhealthy comfort food. We can find gentle ways to exercise or even just get our bodies moving.

Look around you: many people are struggling with weight issues. Weight loss remains one of the top New Year’s resolutions every year. We may be unique in having migraine as the source of difficulties related to weight, but we certainly are not alone in dealing with weight issues or in striving to be healthier.

Has migraine tipped your scales? If so, how have you handled the challenges? Please share your insights below so we can learn from one another.

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

Comments

  • petitemathilde
    2 weeks ago

    I appreciate mentionning the problem of weight loss of thin individuals. I took Topamax for about 7 months and lost almost 10% of my body weigth. I am quite short (4’11 and my usual weight is around 90-92 lbs I went down to 80 lbs). I lost weight to the point of losing muscle mass and the only response I ever got was ” I wish I could lose weight as easily” No, you don’t.
    I was in constant pain due to my muscle loss except when I was sitting straight or laying down on my back not moving. I started exepriencing random bone pain, my pelvis area started to become extremely unstable as I kept losing weight. In the end I was able to stop the weight loss by eating twice the amount of food I’d usually eat at every meal plus taking a caloric meal suplement at least once a day. It took me a year to go back to normal and I feel my pelvic area never returned to how it was before. and bones. It was a miracle i did not stop having my period toward the end.
    It was a terrible experience and dealing with drastic weight loss always feels something shameful to talk about as people constantly remind you that they hope they could lose that weight. Most of the time it feels like I have no right to talk about it but the consequences are real and painful.

  • Holly Baddour moderator author
    1 week ago

    Thank you for sharing your experience with Topamax. That does sounds incredibly intense. So horrible to hear you feel it did you permanent damage. You are right to emphasize that migraine, and related drugs, can impact both sides of the scale.

    Thinking of you!

  • stei
    6 months ago

    Don’t forget hormones and hunger/weight gain! Have been on continuous birth control, after 40 – HRT, for 20-years to supress cycle related migraines. Decreased from 3-weeks per month (pre, cycle, and post) to only weather/ trigger-related headaches. Also, many of us have intense hunger after triptans used during acute attacks.

  • Holly Baddour moderator author
    6 months ago

    So thankful you chimed in. We have many articles on this topic you, or others, might be interested in: https://migraine.com/?s=hormones. However it sounds like you could probably write your own. Hormones, and their related shifts are a major trigger for many women living with migraine disease. Continuous birth control can be an effective way to regulate those monthly hormonal fluctuations. It sounds like you used hormone replacement therapy (HRT) during/after menopause to do the same. Was there a process involved in getting the HRT levels right? Grateful that you took the time and thank you for sharing your wisdom on this!

  • mrst53
    7 months ago

    Amitryptaline is so far back in my list of meds, I don’t know if I gained or not. I do know that last year after 2 terrible migraine attacks, that landed me in the hospital, I gained 20 lbs. Don’t know what caused it,maybe it was the cocktail they used to know out my headache. I still have not been able to lose it. I started walking in the fall, and then my knee went out. I have gone for shots in my head and I had 2 migraine free days, each time. My doc is trying to get Aimovig approved thru Tricare and Medicare. Hope he’s right in that he can. Will try anything, like most of us.

  • Holly Baddour moderator author
    7 months ago

    I’d be interested to hear how Aimovig works for you. Please keep in touch about that. You bring up an important point in talking about your knee- which is that for many of us, migraine is not our only health issue. Weight can be affected by many a factor, migraine being just one.

    Let us know how things go with getting approved for Aimovig. I know the drug company is offering free access to the drug for 12 months- so you may want to talk to your doctor about that: https://migraine.com/living-migraine/aimovig-experiences/

  • Ginawils79
    7 months ago

    Does the topomax/quidexy cause you to have mood swings?

  • Holly Baddour moderator author
    7 months ago

    Hi Gina- I do not have mood swings as a result of the Topamax, but we do have a forum dedicated to this medication which might be of interest of you: https://migraine.com/topic/topamax/ – you’ll be able to find more community dialogue on the topic there.

  • Tori Kappii
    7 months ago

    This is oh so familiar . I have been off and on topomax for 14 years. I am on 50 Mg daily. It cuts the intensity but in no way has removed the migraines from my life. I take axert with vimovo and fiorinal with codeine as rescue. I am in Canada . I have tried all other triptans. I have tried everything else , nothing works. Eating cleaner does help quite a bit which means no alcohol , less sugar , less white stuff , less red meat , more plant based , more balance. Finally went back to WW and dropped 45 pounds and have kept it off ….balance is key . In the throws of menopause which now has me more episodic and less chronic . Weight does affect my migraines and food choices do too. Wishing everyone wellness and what works for one may not necessarily work for another .

  • Holly Baddour moderator author
    7 months ago

    Hey Tori!

    Thanks for sharing some of your story and how weight has interacted with your migraine disease. I’m very interested to hear how menopause is shifting your migraine pattern. Some say it transitions their attacks into chronic, while others, like you, say it helps them become episodic. Menopause can also have an impact on weight, of course. Weight can be a constant battle – it helps to stay conscientious and, as you said, balanced.

    So glad you’re a part of our community. Hope that you’ll stay in touch.

  • Trtlegrl27
    7 months ago

    Women in my family carry a bit extra weight already. It became hard for me to stay an ideal weight when I developed fibromyalgia and my migraines became chronic. I use sweets as a comfort food too. So I’m trying to drink more water with citrus.

    My goal is to drink when I crave sweets. Hoping it will eventually tell my body to stop craving sweets and help me cleanse.

  • Holly Baddour moderator author
    7 months ago

    Great idea to keep the water intake up. That can help out on many levels. Flushing out the system with lemon water to avoid those sweet cravings is a great strategy. I recently started having an italian lemon ice at the end of every meal as a way to stop grabbing high calorie/carb sweets. It’s a no-calorie way to cleanse my palate and it helps my stomach somehow to know the meal is over. Thanks for sharing the idea with the rest of us- let us know how it works for you!

  • AZReynolds
    7 months ago

    Weight is definitely a problem, but how much is old age, hysterectomy, diet or exercise? I gained 20 pounds in 2 months after my hysterectomy, and immediately developed hypothyroidism the same time. Exercising and diet made no difference. I accepted it, but continue to struggle to not gain more. Twenty years, a thousand diets later, I still battle those 20-30 lbs. I’m currently on keto because I heard it actually takes off belly fat, yet 18 lbs down and I still look pregnant. So goes life.

  • Holly Baddour moderator author
    7 months ago

    Thanks so much for chiming in. You are certainly not alone in this. Such a good point that it can be hard to tell what the driver is when it comes to weight gain when there are so many potential causes out there. Thyroid issues are very challenging to escape when it comes to weight.

    Congratulations on losing the 18- that’s major and many people in our community swear by the Keto diet saying it helps to decrease the frequency and/or severity of their migraine attacks so perhaps two birds with one stone there?

    Thanks again for sharing and being a part of our community. Stay in touch!

  • jmedlin
    7 months ago

    Amitriptyline has made me gain, but was effective in reducing number of migraines. But I reckon the propranolol helped some gain as well, but I don’t have the palpitations anymore. I did used to enjoy walking until one day I found myself dangerously dizzy hanging onto the pedestrian light poll at a busy intersection. Never mind I thought I just need to power through had my walk and was really sick for the rest of the day. Like I did at Christmas, power through for the relies ,send the next week trying to at least get back to where I was ,not worse. Also my head tells me that if I eat sugary things I will feel better. It is really strong as going hungry can also trigger an attack.

  • Holly Baddour moderator author
    7 months ago

    Thank you so much for sharing. You bring up the important distinction between those side effects that are acceptable and those that are not.

    Many of us can relate to the amitriptyline issue. If a medication helps decrease the frequency and/or intensity of migraine attacks, then a somewhat acceptable side effect (weight gain) may be palatable. However, when side effects (dizziness/lightheadedness, nausea) start to impact our ability to function, we have to ask whether or not that medication is still worth it- or whether we back off activities that seem to exacerbate those troublesome side effects.

    It may be that your lightheadedness is related to your migraine and not the amitriptyline/propranolol use- but I wanted to make larger point because it’s one that applies to many.

    Whether it is exercise, or spending time with relatives, migraine can cause our pain to increase when we extend ourselves which is so defeating- especially if it causes us to spend a week regaining stability. We then can feel as if we’re being punished with pain for our actions: https://migraine.com/living-migraine/punishment/

    So glad you’re a part of our community. Please stay in touch!

  • Holly H.
    7 months ago

    Oh, boy, do I know this one. All The Time. One of the meds they tried years ago messed with my ability to feel full… permanently. My brain constantly is telling me that I haven’t eaten and am so hungry. Interestingly, I found a young lady who has a site about food and finding balance, and I wrote her my story. She gave great advice. (Abby @ Eat Work Play Balanced)

    She said to rely on my senses to assure me that I have eaten. Smell the food; watch the fork come toward my mouth with the food on it, and come away without it; be aware of my chewing and swallowing… like that. Helps! But when so tired and worn out and in lots of pain… It’s hard to keep on with that fight some days. *sigh*

  • Holly Baddour moderator author
    7 months ago

    Thanks so much for sharing this resource and the strategies you learned so that the rest of us can learn from you! That all sounds really logical though, as you said, it’s so easy to get lost on us when we are in the weeds managing severe pain day after day. I remember hearing someone say it was a good idea to take time chewing our food because if we slam it down, we don’t give our bodies a chance to send the signal that we are full. A good reminder to focus on the important simple things and to slow down.

    Thanks again- so glad you’re a part of our community. Please stay in touch.

  • pwrnapper
    7 months ago

    Your article really hits home with the meds vs. weight gain problems we all suffer from. In addition to my migraines I get 4-6 Cluster Headaches during my cycle twice each year but Aimovig has definitely slowed down the intensity and number each day. I also have Fibro, Peripheral Neuropathy, spinal arthritis and a few other things thrown in. The number of meds I take daily for preventatives and abortives for these various diseases is amazing and makes my wife crazy. I’ve gained 50 lbs the past few years and just can’t seem to lose it, lots of water gain and belly fat. I try to watch my diet and have even reduced meat to twice per week but I just refuse to go vegetarian or on a strict diet. I love my food and basically “live to eat” rather than “eat to live. It’s like I am rewarding myself for handling all these painful diseases but living with guilt knowing that my weight only increases the pain with many of them. Almost like I am slowly killing myself on purpose but afraid of dying. Dealing with such intense pain 24/7 with very few “good days” anymore is very difficult but I deal with it mostly for my wife of 51 years, rewarding her for sticking with me and taking care of my needs, which have become more difficult for her with my diseases. Sorry to vent but some days I need to and my wife is tired of hearing it for a long time. Not that I complain much but she can see it in my face, knows when I am having a bad day and let’s me be. During those times that is exactly what I want too. Anyone else dealing with multiple nerve diseases? Share your story with me please.

  • AZReynolds
    7 months ago

    Yes, I be have peripheral neuropathy, fibromyalgia and MPS. I personally blame my enlarged pituatary gland for all my disorders. It controls our body’s chemicals. If they were correct, I believe I could sleep better. I know my accidents have caused a lot of my problems, but I still believe the level of pain would be reduced if Substance P and cytokines weren’t so high.

  • Holly Baddour moderator author
    7 months ago

    Thank you so much for sharing some of your story here. You are not alone in juggling multiple health challenges. Well known connections exist between fibro and migraine: https://migraine.com/blog/migraine-comorbidities-fibromyalgia/. Also we recently launched a forum on the intersection of migraine and peripheral neuropathy: https://migraine.com/topic/peripheral-neuropathy/ – it’s still pretty new so not a lot of posts there yet.

    You are also welcome to share your story here: https://migraine.com/stories/ or, ask a question about multiple nerve diseases here: https://migraine.com/q-and-a/ where you might have a greater chance of more community members seeing your post than here in this thread.

    Just as you mentioned, this article speaks to the idea of food as reward for making it through the severe pain- rather than food as fuel. Each person must decide if or when they choose to proactively alter their diet to see if it will make a difference with their pain. Some of us may feel the disease has robbed us of enough- it’s unfair and we don’t want to feel we have to give up on food too. For others, we may feel we have to do all we can to assert control over the uncontrollable. Others still, might be willing to do a limited clean diet trial to see if it helps. For many changing diet has no impact- while for others it’s a game changer and becomes worth it to make alterations on major levels if they feel they are getting some semblance of their life back. To each his/her own, for sure.

    Again, it’s so important to connect with others who are living this reality to remember that we’re not alone in this. That said, it sounds like you are blessed with a loving spouse who is supportive of you. It can be challenging for all those involved to manage chronic pain conditions.

    So glad you are a part of our community! Please stay in touch.

  • txrungirl
    7 months ago

    I too am very frustrated with weight gain. After my migraines went from moderately controlled to insanity, I slowly began to put on about 20 pounds over 2 years. I couldn’t run anymore or even walk due to the sun. My triggers were instaneous. Then peri menopause hit. I have found the best migraine specialist who broke my rebound with infusions. I have new meds for PMS related; PM meds to help with morning migraines; continued Botox & new Aimovig & Ajovy. She also helped me manage a 10 day trip to Australia! I’ve found the best lifestyle plan to lose weight. I’ve lost 13 lbs already in 3 1/2 months. I’m doing better and need my next Botox! Good luck to everyone ❤️

  • Holly Baddour moderator author
    7 months ago

    Thanks so much for chiming in! You do a great job speaking to the multi- tiered strategies that we chronic migraineurs must employ in order to seek a semblance of quality of life, not to mention to achieve a healthy weight.

    So glad that your strategies are working such that you were able to get away for a trip overseas! Is the lifestyle plan of which you speak the combination of migraine treatments or something else? Congratulations on the recent weight loss!

  • CarolineKW
    7 months ago

    I have gained 10lbs and no matter what I do, I can’t lose it. I am not gaining anymore and have tried all kinds of ways to get the extra weight off but nothing works. I take amitriptyline, Zolmitriptan and do the Botox thing. Now I also use Aimovig which has really helped reduce intensity of my chronic migraines. I wish I knew a way to get rid of weight without having to sacrifice feeling ok?

  • Holly Baddour moderator author
    7 months ago

    Amitriptyline is a classic weight-gainer, unfortunately. It is also a well-known migraine preventative. It may be that you keep that weight on as long as you’re on that medication. You’re so right that none of us should have to choose between weight gain and wellness.

    How is the Aimovig working for you?

    Thanks for chiming in and please stay in touch.

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