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Headache

27 March 2019

Fewer excess kilos may mean fewer migraines

New research shows that weight loss is associated with a large decline in migraine frequency, duration, pain and disability.

For people who carry too much weight and suffer from migraines, dropping some kilos might help ease their pain, new research shows.

"When people lose weight, the number of days per month with migraine decreases, as does pain severity and headache attack duration," said lead researcher Dr Claudio Pagano. He is associate professor of internal medicine at the University of Padova in Italy.

Similar in kids and adults

Pagano's team looked at data from 10 different studies that included 473 migraine patients in total. The analysis showed that weight loss was associated with large declines in migraine frequency, duration, pain and disability.

The benefits were similar whether reductions in weight were achieved through weight-loss surgery or changes in diet and exercise, and were similar in kids and adults.

How overweight you were to begin with didn't seem to matter, however. Improvements in migraine were not tied to either the original level of obesity or the overall amount of weight loss, Pagano's group reported.

The findings are to be presented at the Endocrine Society's annual meeting, in New Orleans.

The bottom line is that "if you suffer from migraine headaches and are obese, losing weight will ameliorate the quality of your family and social life, as well as your work and school productivity. Your overall quality of life will greatly improve," Pagano said.

"Weight loss in adults and children with obesity greatly improves migraine headache by improving all the main features that worsen migraineurs' quality of life," he added in a meeting news release.

Findings not surprising

There should be a ripple effect on other health issues as well, Pagano suggested. "Weight loss reduces the impact of conditions associated with obesity, including diabetes, hypertension [high blood pressure], coronary heart disease, stroke and respiratory diseases," he said.

Why might obesity worsen migraine? The reasons aren't clear, the researchers said, but could involve changes in chronic inflammation, certain proteins released by fat tissue, obesity-related health problems, and behavioural and psychological risk factors.

Dr Noah Rosen directs Northwell Health's Headache Center in Great Neck, New York. Looking over the new study, he noted that it was odd that "there was no evidence that the weight at baseline, or the amount of weight lost seems to matter" when it comes to improvements in migraine tied to weight loss.

"It is good to know that weight loss is beneficial, but it would be better to know why that is, and what is the best way to achieve it," Rosen said.

One weight-loss expert said the findings are in keeping with what's known about weight and health.

"The finding that, with weight loss, headaches and migraines improve is not surprising – when proper balance is maintained, every system improves," said Dr Mitchell Roslin, chief of obesity surgery at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City.

Image credit: iStock

 

Ask the Expert

Headache expert

Dr Elliot Shevel is a South African migraine surgery pioneer and the founder and medical director of The Headache Clinic in Johannesburg, Durban and 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. He recently won a high level science debate in which he was able to prove that the current migraine diagnosis and classification is not based on data. Tertiary Education - Dr Shevel holds both Dental and Medical degrees, and practises as a specialist Maxillo-facial and Oral Surgeon. Follow the Headache Clinic on Twitter@HeadacheClinic.

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