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Obese people may be more likely to have occasional migraines

Getting painful migraines every once in a while may be more likely to happen if you are obese.

A new study published online Sept. 11 in Neurology has found a link between the two conditions. Previous studies have linked chronic, or frequent, migraines with obesity, but never occasional ones.

The study also suggests easy, at-home treatments may tackle migraines.

"These results suggest that doctors should promote healthy lifestyle choices for diet and exercise in people with episodic migraine," study author Dr. B. Lee Peterlin, an associate professor of neurology at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, Md., said in a press release. "More research is needed to evaluate whether weight loss programs can be helpful in overweight and obese people with episodic migraine."

Researchers looked at 3,862 people around 47 years old. They were asked to fill out surveys that included their height, weight and how often they got migraines.

The results showed that 1,044 participants were obese and 188 of the participants had occasional or episodic migraines, defined as 14 or fewer migraine headaches per month. About 10 to 15 percent of people overall have episodic migraines, the authors noted.

Obese people were 81 percent more likely to have occasional migraines compared to normal weight participants. The results also showed that the episodic migraine and obesity link was stronger in those under 50, when migraines are more frequent, than those older than 50.

Dr. Gretchen Tietjen, director of the headache treatment and research program at the University of Toledo, in Ohio, said the research adds credence to previous data that shows that having extra weight and migraines are linked. But, it is still not known which condition came first for these patients: the weight issues or the intense headaches.

"Maybe the person had the migraines first and then started taking medications like amitriptyline or valproic acid," Tietjen, who was not involved in the study, said to HealthDay. "Those medications are associated with weight gain."

Some experts were skeptical that the news would make any impact.

"If this helps of course to make people believe they should lose weight, that's great, but does it mean that reduction in weight will reduce migraine attacks, or treat migraines? That's a question they haven't addressed," Dr. Tobias Kurth, of the French national research institute INSERM and the University of Bordeaux, said to Reuters.

Kurth, who wasn't involved in the study, pointed out that people shouldn't jump to conclusions that migraines are caused by weight issues.

"If obesity would cause migraine, which is the suggestion of this study, we would expect to see an increase ... in the prevalence of migraine, because we have such an epidemic of obesity in the United States," he said. "And this is just not true."

Obesity isn't the only condition linked to the painful, debilitating headaches. People with migraines and depression have been shown to have smaller brains in a recent study. Other studies have linked infants with colic with a higher chance of getting migraines when they are adults.