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Overweight people more prone to chronic headaches

05 September 2016, 12:03

A recent study has established that obese people are more likely to experience headaches. These headaches are often more severe and frequent than those suffered by patients who are of normal weight.

This is according to Dr Elliot Shevel, Chairman of the South African branch of the International Headache Society and Medical Director of The Headache Clinic.

The study provides some interesting insights into the link between weight and headaches. However, more research is needed to establish the exact nature of the relationship between the two factors, says Shevel.


Headaches occurred in 4% of normal weight people, but among 5% of the obese and 7% of the morbidly obese participants in the study. Some 33% of the obese people missed more than four days of work in one year because of their headaches, compared with only 27% of overweight and normal-weight people. The obese participants were also more likely to report severe pain than people of normal weight.

Among the findings of the study is the fact that women who are middle-aged and obese are among the most likely to suffer from frequent and severe headaches. Obese people in the study were also 30% more likely to suffer from chronic daily headaches (more than 15 headaches each month that last more than four hours).

Says Dr Shevel: "It could well be that the headaches are caused by a symptom of obesity, or that the headaches and obesity share a common cause. For example, many obese people suffer from insomnia or poor sleep quality, and sleeplessness is a clear headache trigger among many patients.

"Alternatively, overweight people are perhaps more likely to eat a lot of unhealthy junk and fast food that contains known headache triggers such as caffeine, sugar, MSG, processed meats, cheeses and chocolate."

"As with any patient, an obese headache sufferer should keep a headache diary to keep track of what seems to trigger the headaches: lighting conditions and noise, insomnia, diet, heat, dehydration, poor posture when sitting at a desk and stress are just a few examples of common triggers."

Read Also: What does a woman's sexual history matter?

Dr Shevel is a specialist in the treatment and prevention of headaches. He has presented to specialists all over the world, and has a long list of publications in some of the world's most respected peer-reviewed medical and dental journals.

Healthy living

He believes a routine of healthy living is important for a migraine or headache sufferer to control his or her condition.

"A healthy diet with regular and well-balanced meals and adequate sleep (eight to ten hours a day) can often work wonders for a headache-prone person."

Anyone who suffers from sudden or continuous headaches should seek medical attention; regardless of their weight says Dr Shevel. Headaches can be successfully treated using a multidisciplinary approach, as pioneered by Dr Shevel's team at The Headache Clinic, since no one medical specialisation covers all the psychological and physical dimensions that impact on and are impacted by severe headaches.

A multidisciplinary approach combines and integrates the expertise of different specialists (such as neurologists, maxillo-facial and oral surgeons, dentists, and physiotherapists) who would normally treat headache patients in isolation, into a single body of knowledge.

Concludes Dr Shevel: "The medical risks of obesity are well-known, and many of them are underlined in this study. Not only are obese people more likely to suffer from headaches, but also from other ailments such as nausea. The good news is that headaches and their triggers can be treated and managed as effectively among obese people as among normal weight people." - The Headache Centre

- Health24


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