Public Release: 

Obesity linked to risk of severe headaches

American Academy of Neurology

MIAMI BEACH - Obesity is linked to a risk of severe headaches, according to research that will be presented at the American Academy of Neurology 57th Annual Meeting in Miami Beach, Fla., April 9 - 16, 2005.

The study measured the influence of body mass index on frequency, severity, and the potentially disabling effects of headaches. An individual's body mass index helps to determine his or her individual weight-related health problems according to height and weight. Out of 143,433 participants reached by phone, researchers identified 30,850 people who had at least one severe headache attack in the previous year and took weight and height assessments. Participants were categorized into four body mass index types: underweight, normal weight, overweight, and obese. A fifth group of morbidly obese individuals was also analyzed.

Results indicated that chronic daily headaches are more prevalent in obese and morbidly obese people than those with normal body weight. The majority of respondents were female (64 percent) and had an average age of 43.

Thirty-three percent of the obese people missed more than four days of work in one year because of a severe headache, compared to 27.2 percent of overweight people, 27.2 percent of normal weight people, and 26.1 percent of underweight people. Obese people also reported severe pain more often than the other groups. Those with morbid obesity reported that the pain was usually severe 40.2 percent of the time. The length of time the headaches were endured did not differ significantly among the groups.

"The findings suggest that people with obesity were more likely to report frequent, more painful, and more debilitating headaches than other groups we encountered," said Marcelo E. Bigal, MD, PhD, of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine and lead author of the study.

The underweight group reported headaches accompanied by nausea more frequently than the other groups.


The study data was collected by IMR, Inc, a division of Caremark. Analysis was supported by Ortho-McNeil Pharmaceutical, Inc, a division of Johnson & Johnson.

The American Academy of Neurology, an association of more than 18,000 neurologists and neuroscience professionals, is dedicated to improving patient care through education and research. A neurologist is a doctor with specialized training in diagnosing, treating and managing disorders of the brain and nervous system such as Alzheimer's disease, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson's disease, and stroke.

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