APR 20, 2017 4:35 AM PDT

Body Mass Index Could Be a Migraine Risk Factor

Migraine headaches can be a major obstacle to living a healthy life. In the United States, more than 37 million people suffer from migraines. Some studies estimate that 13 percent of adults in the U.S. population have migraines, and 2-3 million migraine suffers are chronic. Almost 5 million people in the U.S. experience at least one migraine attack per month, while more than 11 million people blame migraines for causing moderate to severe disability. More than 70% of migraine sufferers are women and of those, close to 90% have had to miss work and have reported not being able to function during an attack. Most migraine patients have a family history of the crippling headaches. While there have been hundreds of studies on the cause and treatment for migraine pain, no one specific cause has been found and treatments are still not an exact science and vary from patient to patient.

A recent study published in Neurology®, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology, sought to clarify the relationship, if any, between body mass index (BMI) and migraines. The work was a meta-analysis of all available studies on body mass index (BMI) and migraine. Their results pointed to both obesity and being underweight as risk factors for migraines.

Study author B. Lee Peterlin, DO, of Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and a member of the American Academy of Neurology stated, “As obesity and being underweight are potentially modifiable risk factors for migraine, awareness of these risk factors is vital for both people with migraine and doctors. More research is needed to determine whether efforts to help people lose or gain weight could lower their risk for migraine.”

The study involved some pretty big data. A total of 12 published research studies with a total of 288,981 participants were reviewed by the team from the AAN. After crunching the numbers and adjusting for age and sex, there was a correlation between obesity and migraine prevalence. Based on the analysis conducted, obese people were 27 percent more likely to have migraine than people of normal weight. Those who were skinny were not without risk either. Being underweight was responsible for a 13 percent higher likelihood of migraine pain than a person whose weight was in the normal range. For the purposes of the work, obesity was defined as a BMI of 30 or higher. Participants with a BMI of less than 18.5 were considered underweight.

The study was not able to determine why or how BMI was related to migraine prevalence, however the researchers estimated that a number of factors like medications, depression, physical activity and molecular activity in adipose tissue (fat), all of which affect BMI could be at play in migraines as well. The variables of age and sex were significant as well. Obesity and the risks it comes with for other diseases like heart disease and cancer are more common in women and younger people, and the same is true for migraines.

The analysis of the current research was not without problems, however. In over half the studies, participants self-reported both the severity and frequency of their migraines as well as their BMI numbers. Still, the relationship between body mass index and migraine pain is worth looking at, since both issues, combined and on their own, impact so many people. The study was supported by the National Institutes of Health and the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. The video below has more details, check it out.

Sources: Men’s HealthSF GateAmerican Academy of NeurologyMigraine.com 

About the Author
  • I'm a writer living in the Boston area. My interests include cancer research, cardiology and neuroscience. I want to be part of using the Internet and social media to educate professionals and patients in a collaborative environment.
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