Severe Headaches May Be Tied to Bariatric Surgery

Bariatric weight loss surgery and severe headaches from spontaneous intracranial hypotension linked in recent study

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Bariatric surgery to aid weight loss has become more and more common. But a new study suggests it could be tied to a surprising side effect — a condition that causes severe headaches.

The study found that patients with the condition — called spontaneous intracranial hypotension — were more likely than patients with another neurological condition to have had bariatric surgery.

"I'm not surprised about the link between weight loss surgery and intracranial hypotension," said Allan David MacIntyre, DO, a bariatric surgeon at Surgical Weight Loss Solutions Las Vegas.

"I have many obese patients that have pseudotumor cerebri which causes intracranial hypertension and the treatment is weight loss surgery," said Dr. MacIntyre, who is the only triple fellowship trained acute care and bariatric surgeon in the state of Nevada.

Spontaneous intracranial hypotension is marked by the leaking of fluid in the brain and spinal cord, often causing severe headaches.

Wouter I. Schievink, MD, of Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, led the study.

Dr. Schievink and team observed a group of patients who developed spontaneous intracranial hypotension after having bariatric surgeries. They wanted to see whether these two factors were linked.

Bariatric surgeries help obese people lose weight, often by restricting the amount of food the body can take in.

The authors studied 338 spontaneous intracranial hypotension patients and compared them to 245 patients with unruptured intracranial aneurysms — a neurological condition marked by blood vessels in the brain swelling and filling with blood. The authors studied the patients for 10 years.

They found that 11 of the spontaneous intracranial hypotension patients (3.3 percent) had had bariatric surgery in the past — compared to only two of the unruptured intracranial aneurysm patients (0.8 percent).

The average time between the surgery and patients having symptoms of spontaneous intracranial hypotension was 56.5 months.

Further research is needed to confirm and better understand this study's findings, the authors noted. Dr. Schievink and team said the potential link could be tied to a number of factors, such as the effect weight loss may have on pressure in the brain or malnutrition following bariatric surgery.

The study was published online Oct. 22 in the journal Neurology.

The authors disclosed no funding sources or conflicts of interest.

Review Date: 
October 21, 2014
Last Updated:
October 23, 2014