A Link Between Migraines and Your Waistline?

Obesity linked to migraines in those under age 50

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

(RxWiki News) The link between being overweight or obese and other health issues is clearly established for conditions like heart disease, cancer and diabetes. But a person's weight may be related to migraines as well.

A recent study found that those who are obese have greater odds of having frequent migraines than those of a normal weight.

The link between obesity and migraines, however, was only present in those younger than 50 years old.

In addition, those who were white or female and obese had an even stronger likelihood of frequent migraines.

It's not clear why the link between obesity and frequent migraines exists.

"Talk to your doctor about frequent migraines."

The study, led by B. Lee Peterlin, DO, of the Department of Neurology at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, looked at whether there was a link between obesity and migraines.

The researchers asked 3,862 adults how frequently they had headaches while gathering other data about their health and demographics.

The participants who experienced headaches for 168 days or fewer were classified as suffering from episodic migraines if their headaches met the criteria for an episodic migraine using the International Classification of Headache Disorders.

If they experienced these headaches 108 days or fewer each year, they were considered "lower-frequency." If they experienced them 60 or fewer days each year, they were considered "very low-frequency."

The participants were considered obese if they had a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or higher. BMI is a ratio of a person's height to weight, and is used to determine whether they have a healthy weight.

A BMI of 25 to 29.9 is considered overweight, and a normal BMI is considered one from 18.5 to 24.9.

Overall, 188 participants met the criteria for having episodic migraines.

The researchers analyzed the relationship between the participants' BMI and likelihood of having episodic migraines, taking into account other characteristics of the participants.

Those characteristics included their age, sex, race/ethnicity, marital status, years of education and level of poverty.

The researchers also considered whether the individuals had ever or currently were smoking, and whether they had high blood pressure, diabetes or depression.

The results revealed that those who were obese had about 1.8 times greater odds of having episodic migraines than those with a normal weight.

The higher a participant's BMI was, from normal weight to overweight up to obese, the more likely that person was to have episodic migraines, the researchers found.

Additionally, the researchers found that obese individuals had even greater odds of having episodic migraines if they were younger than 50 years old, if they were white, or if they were female.

"The odds of episodic migraines in general are increased in those with obesity, and that this increased odds is significant even in those with lower headache frequencies," the authors wrote.

Their finding that this link between headaches and obesity is primarily in younger individuals is supported by past research. Those who were obese and over 50 years old were not more likely to have episodic migraines.

"The connection between obesity and migraines is not new; however, this study highlights the association between obesity, episodic migraines and age," said Shanker Dixit, MD, Medical Director for the Stroke Program at Mountain View Hospital and Summerlin Hospital.

"In caring for patients with episodic migraines, clinicians - while always emphasizing healthy lifestyles - should pay specific attention to matters of weight, diet and exercise and discuss these associations between obesity and migraine with their patients," he said.

"This also stretches into medication management because of the potential impact on weight some medications may have, Dr. Dixit said. "If you are a patient with episodic migraines, talk to your doctor about lifestyle and diet to develop a care plan. Although it is not fully clear if weight loss directly impacts migraines, making some changes may help lessen your symptoms."

The researchers said the reason for the link is unclear.

The study was published September 11 in the journal Neurology. The research did not receive external funding.

The lead author has received research support from GlaxoSmithKline and Luitpold Pharmaceuticals. He also receives royalties from Oxford University Press and is an associate editor for the journals Headache and BMC Neurology. Another author is a speaker for the American Pain Society.

Review Date: 
September 11, 2013
Last Updated:
February 5, 2014