Body mass index and episodic headaches: a population-based study

Arch Intern Med. 2007 Oct 8;167(18):1964-70. doi: 10.1001/archinte.167.18.1964.


Background: We investigated the influence of the body mass index (BMI [calculated as weight in kilograms divided by height in meters squared]) on the frequency, severity, and patterns of treatment of migraine, probable migraine (PM), and severe episodic tension-type headache (S-ETTH).

Methods: A validated questionnaire was mailed to 120 000 households selected to be representative of the US population. The participants were divided into 5 categories based on BMI: underweight (<18.5), normal weight (18.5-24.9), overweight (25.0-29.9), obese (30.0-34.9), and morbidly obese (>35.0). Analyses were adjusted by covariates that included demographic variables (age, sex, race, and income), duration of illness, comorbidities, use of preventive medication, and use of opioids.

Results: The response rate was 65%. We identified 18 968 individuals with migraine, 7564 with PM, and 2051 with S-ETTH. The distribution of very frequent headaches (10-14 d/mo) was assessed by BMI. Among individuals with migraine, very frequent headaches (10-14 d/mo) occurred in 7.4% of the overweight (P = .10), 8.2% of the obese (P < .001), and 10.4% of the morbidly obese (P < .0001) subjects, compared with 6.5% of those with normal weight, in adjusted analyses. Among individuals with PM and S-ETTH, the differences were not significant (P = .20). The disability of migraineurs, but not of those with PM or S-ETTH, also varied as a function of BMI. Among migraineurs, 32.0% of those with normal weight had some disability compared with 37.2% of the overweight (P < .01), 38.4% of the obese (P < .001), and 40.9% of the morbidly obese (P < .001) subjects.

Conclusion: These findings support the concept that obesity is an exacerbating factor for migraine but not for other types of episodic headaches.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Body Mass Index*
  • Child
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Migraine Disorders / complications
  • Migraine Disorders / drug therapy
  • Migraine Disorders / epidemiology*
  • Obesity / complications
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Tension-Type Headache / complications
  • Tension-Type Headache / epidemiology