Obesity may raise headache risk

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Being overweight or obese may increase the likelihood of having severe headaches and migraines, new study findings suggest. An increased prevalence of headache may be associated with being underweight as well.

In analyses of 7,601 adult men and women, Dr. Earl S. Ford and colleagues at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, report that being overweight or obese increased the likelihood of headache by 1.2- to nearly 1.4-times.

Ford’s group investigated association between body mass index (BMI), the ratio between height and weight often used to determine the weight range an individual falls into, and headache among men and women, 20 years of age or older, who participated in the 1999 to 2002 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.

Overall, about 15 percent of the men and 28 percent of the women reported they had severe headaches or migraines during the previous 3 months, the researchers report in the medical journal Cephalalgia.

Nearly 35 percent of the study group were overweight (BMI between 25 and 30), another 30 percent were obese (BMI over 30), and 33 percent were in the normal weight range (BMI between 18.5 and 25).

In the underweight participants, just about 2 percent of the study population, Ford’s group noted a two-fold higher prevalence of headache, but the limited number of underweight participants precluded further analysis.

After accounting for other factors potentially associated with increased headache risk such as gender, ethnicity, smoking, alcohol use, physical activity, diabetes and cholesterol levels, the overweight and obese subjects still had a greater headache frequency than did normal-weight participants.

“If obesity increases the risk for headaches, weight management might be a useful approach in headache management,” Ford and colleagues suggest.

They also recommend further analyses to establish “whether obesity is causally related to the development of headaches.”

SOURCE: Cephalalgia, December 2008