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Obesity May Increase Migraine Odds

Study found risk of painful headaches rose with body weight, especially in younger women and whites

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On the other hand, Peterlin also suggested that a possible connection may be related to the brain. "Previous imaging data in migraine patients have shown activation of the hypothalamus, a part of the brain that controls the drive to feed," she said. Alternatively, it could be that people who have migraines may be more inclined to behaviors associated with weight gain, such as being less active.

Would losing weight mean migraines will decrease in frequency? Although weight loss is generally encouraged for people who are obese, that won't necessarily result in migraine relief, Peterlin and Tietjen said.

At least two small studies have evaluated migraines in people who were obese and underwent bariatric surgery to lose weight, Peterlin said. Although these studies did find that some patients experienced fewer headaches, the studies were small and more research needs to be done to see if this is consistent.

It's possible that the lifestyle changes needed for weight loss cut the migraine frequency, rather than the weight loss itself, the experts said. People who eliminate processed foods, high-calorie foods and alcohol -- all of which can be migraine triggers -- could end up experiencing fewer headaches.

Unfortunately, the opposite could also be true if dieters introduce new foods that are migraine triggers. Some people may develop migraines when they consume certain sugar substitutes, for example. There also is limited data suggesting that people with severe obesity who exercise may have fewer migraines, Peterlin said.

"Our data and previous research serve as a call to researchers in the headache field to identify safe and appropriate treatment options for obese [people with] episodic migraines of all classifications and not just those who qualify for [weight-loss] surgery," she said.

Peterlin also suggested that physicians, in addition to providing lifestyle education to their obese patients with episodic migraines, take into account the weight-gain or weight-loss effect that migraine medications may have on their patients.

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