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Migraines and Obesity

By: Ian Murnaghan BSc (hons), MSc - Updated: 12 Jul 2010 | comments*Discuss
 
Migraines Headaches Obesity Weight Loss

There is still controversy regarding the role obesity plays in the occurrence of migraines and other headache forms, but new research suggests that obesity can make migraine headaches more frequent and intense.

Obesity refers to an excess amount of body fat beyond a set standard determined for good health. Weight gain generally occurs when the size or number of fat cells in an individual increases.

A common method of determining obesity is the body mass index (BMI). To calculate your BMI, you divide your weight in kilograms by the square of your height in metres. A BMI of 25 to 29.9 tends to indicate that a person is overweight and one over 30 usually suggests that a person is obese. Do keep in mind that muscle weighs more than fat, however, so BMI is merely one tool for assessing obesity. Body fat measurements and other tools will be used by your doctor to decide if you are overweight or obese. In a recent study, it was found that as a person's BMI increased above a healthy range, the frequency and intensity of headaches similarly increased.

Does Obesity Trigger Headaches?

The actual prevalence of migraine headaches doesn't seem to be correlated with BMI but on the other hand, BMI is thought to affect the frequency, severity and symptoms of a migraine. An important point to note is that the lifestyle factors that can lead to obesity are ones that are also known to trigger headaches.

Poor sleep can occur alongside obesity and sleep is a known headache trigger so it can't be assumed that obesity directly causes headaches. Individuals who are overweight or more specifically, obese, often suffer from sleep apnoea, where breathing is momentarily halted during sleep. Sleep apnoea has been linked to headaches. Obesity may therefore affect your headaches indirectly from its influence on other bodily functions. It is thought that people who are obese often have unhealthy lifestyle habits such as poor nutrition, lack of exercise and increased stress, all of which can trigger headaches.

Should You Lose Weight?

Based on current research, it would appear that if you are in the overweight or obese category, it is wise to lose weight, not only for your headaches but to experience other health benefits such as the reduced incidence of various diseases. A doctor or dietitian best determines whether or not you are overweight. Some of the foods that tend to trigger migraines, such as wine and chocolate, are high caloric foods so reducing consumption of these can be particularly helpful in preventing headaches.

A concern is that an obese person who suffers from migraines may find it difficult to exercise because of the headache pain. Exercise may have to start out quite slowly and gently before progressing to more cardiovascular types of exercise.

Unfortunately, some of the medications used for head pain may also prompt weight gain and an increased appetite and you may need to adjust your diet and exercise plan accordingly.

The next step in research is to actually examine whether migraine and headache frequency and severity decreases as weight is reduced. Hopefully, the findings will provide valuable information into the connection between obesity and migraines, which means greater treatment options for migraine sufferers.

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