Researchers say weight-loss surgery may lessen migraines

May 3 2011 - 7:01am

Weight-loss surgery can reduce the incidence and severity of migraine headaches, according to results from a small study reported earlier this spring.

Researchers had previously known that obesity intensified migraines, but this is the first study that suggests that surgery to control weight, commonly known as bariatric surgery, can alleviate the problem.

Psychologist Dale S. Bond of the Miriam Hospital in Providence, R.I., and Brown University and his colleagues studied 24 severely obese patients who suffered from migraines, 88 percent of them female.

On average, the participants suffered from migraine attacks on 11 days out of every 90, and half of the participants reported the headaches to be severely disabling, interfering with work and daily living. The participants underwent either Lap-Band surgery or gastric bypass surgery.

After six months, the patients had lost an average of 66 pounds. The average number of headache days was reduced to 6.7 days per 90 days and only 12.5 percent of the patients reported severely disabling headaches. The degree of improvement correlated directly with the amount of weight lost, the researchers reported in the journal Neurology.

Researchers are not sure why obesity aggravates migraines. Some speculate that the inflammation normally associated with obesity may trigger excess migraines, while others suggest that fat cells may release estrogen that causes the headaches. In either case, reducing fat seems to be beneficial.

The researchers cautioned that the results were based on the patients' recall of their headaches, and that future studies should be begun before surgery and require patients to keep a headache diary.

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