Is Body Weight Related To Migraine Headaches?

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Obesity appears to exacerbate the tendency toward migraine headaches. Both migraine and overweight are prevalent and disabling disorders that are influenced by genetic and environmental risk factors. Researchers led by Marcelo E. Bigal, M.D., Ph.D., from Albert Einstein College of Medicine and the Montefiore Headache Center, in the Bronx, investigated the influence of body mass index (BMI) on the frequency, severity, and patterns of treatment of migraine, probable migraine, and severe episodic tension-type headache.

Several inflammatory mediators that are increased in people who are obese may also be important in the pathophysiology of migraine. These mediators are thought to increase the frequency, severity, and duration of migraine attacks, potentially resulting in permanent neuronal damage. Similarly, obesity is a state of sympathetic activation, which may contribute to increased headache frequency. An individuals biological predisposition may also play a role.

Dr. Bigal and his team mailed questionnaires to 120,000 households selected to be representative of the population of the United States. The response rate was 65 percent. Participants were then divided into five categories based on their BMI. The team identified nearly 19,000 individuals who had migraines. Very frequent headaches occurred in 7.4 percent of the overweight patients, in 8.2 percent of the obese patients, and 10.4 percent of the morbidly obese subjects, compared with 6.5 percent of normal weight subjects. The study revealed that 32 percent of the normal-weight patients had some disability, compared with 37 percent of overweight, 38.4 percent of obese, and 40.9 percent of morbidly obese subjects.

(Source: Archives of Internal Medicine, 2007;167:1964-1970.)

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