Headache

06 September 2012

Migraines not tied to greater weight gain

Despite what some research has suggested, women with migraines may have no greater risk of becoming overweight than other women do.

Despite what some research has suggested, women with migraines may have no greater risk of becoming overweight than other women do, a large study finds.

Some studies, though not all have found a connection between excess pounds and a higher rate of migraine. But they have mainly studied people at one point in time - leaving it unclear whether the pounds or the migraines came first.

"Our study should be reassuring that having migraine is not associated with future increase in relative body weight or obesity," said researcher Dr Tobias Kurth, of the French national research institute INSERM and the University of Bordeaux.

How the study was done

In the new study, researchers looked at data from the Women's Health Study, a randomised trial that began enrolling thousands of U.S. women in the mid-1990s to compare aspirin to placebo for preventing heart disease and cancer.

Overall, women who had migraines at the outset were no more likely than other women to become overweight or obese over the next 13 years. And the average weight gain in both groups was almost identical, at around 10 pounds.

"We do not see convincing data that migraine should be considered a risk factor for the development of obesity," Dr Kurth said.

Contributing indirectly

In theory, migraines could contribute to weight gain indirectly. Frequent or severe headaches could keep a person from regular exercise, for example. But the new findings, reported online in Cephalalgia, do not support that theory.

The results are based on 19 162 female health professionals who were age 45 or older, and normal-weight, when they entered the study. Almost 3500 reported a history of migraines.

Over the next 13 years, 41% of those women became overweight, while about 4% became obese. The odds of becoming obese were no greater among women with a history of migraine, and the risk of becoming overweight was only slightly higher: 11%.

Severe migraines did not seem to carry a risk of extra pounds, either, Dr Kurth's team found. Women who had migraines weekly to daily were at no greater risk of becoming overweight or obese than those whose migraines came a few times a year.

The study did not look at the question in the other direction: Are overweight or obese women at increased risk of migraines, or more severe ones?

"This is still possible," Dr Kurth said. "In fact, several studies have now shown that obesity is associated with increased migraine frequency."

There is also some evidence tying obesity to an elevated risk of developing migraines in the first place, he said. But, he added, the prevalence of migraine has remained stable in recent decades, while obesity rates have soared. So it would not seem "reasonable" to assume obesity is causing cases of migraine, Dr Kurth said.

A limit of the study, the researchers say, is that all of the women were at least 45 years old at the start and still normal-weight at that point. So it's not clear if the findings would be the same for younger women.

(Reuters Health, September 2012)

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Dr Elliot Shevel - Founder and Medical Director - The Headache Clinic, (Johannesburg, Durban, Cape Town) South Africa. The Headache Clinic is a multidisciplinary practice dedicated to the diagnosis and treatment of Primary Headaches and Migraines. Dr Shevel is also the main author of all scientific publications generated by his team. Tertiary Education - Dr Shevel holds both Dental and Medical degrees, and practises as a specialist Maxillo-facial and Oral Surgeon.

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