A new report recently published in the medical journal Neurology suggests that bariatric weight-loss surgery may provide relief from debilitating migraines for severely obese individuals. Researchers from The Miriam Hospital Weight Control and Diabetes Research Center in Providence, Rhode Island, found that patients who suffered from migraines prior to having weight-loss surgery reported significant improvements in frequency of migraine attacks, symptom severity, and experienced less disability during the six-month follow-up period after undergoing their procedure.
The authors estimate that approximately 28 million Americans suffer from migraines, the majority of which are female. Although the exact cause of migraines remains unknown, experts believe they are associated with abnormal brain activity triggered by stress, environmental factors, and certain foods, among other possible factors. There is no known cure for migraines, although some medications can help to decrease the frequency of episodes.
A migraine is a severe, recurring headache, usually affecting only one side of the head, characterized by sharp pain. It is often accompanied by nausea, vomiting, and visual disturbances such as such as flashing lights, tingling in arms and legs, blind spots, and increased sensitivity to light, as well as heightened sensitivity to sound. The extreme pain may continue for hours, or even days. According to lead author of the new study, Dale Bond, Ph.D., “Obesity is thought to contribute to worsening of migraine, particularly for severely obese individuals, yet no study has examined whether weight loss can actually improve migraine headaches in these patients. Our study provides evidence that weight loss may be an important part of a migraine treatment plan for obese patients.”
For their study, the researchers examined a total of 24 severely obese patients having an average BMI of 46.6 prior to undergoing bariatric surgery, and all of whom suffered from migraines. The participants were of middle age, and 88 percent were female. More than half of the group had laparoscopic gastric banding surgery, while the remainder underwent Roux-enY gastric bypass. At six months post-surgery, the average BMI among the group was 34.6, and the average weight loss totaled 66.4 pounds.
Findings of the study showed that following surgery, the majority of participants experienced less headaches, with almost half reporting a 50 percent reduction in frequency of migraine attacks. Patients who had the greatest weight loss by the end of the six month period experienced the most migraine relief.
The average number of headache days among participants dropped from 11.1 to 6.7, after having lost average of 49.4 percent excess weight. Patients also experienced a reduction in headache severity, and the number of patients who suffered from moderate to severe disability decreased from 12 prior to surgery, to just three after the surgeries.
In conclusion, the authors wrote, “Although large weight losses produced by bariatric surgery appear to positively affect migraine, future clinical trials are needed to examine whether more modest weight losses achieved through behavioral treatments can produce similar improvements.”
Prior studies have shown that after gastric bypass surgery, survival rates for the obese significantly increase. The two long-term studies, found that obese people who had weight loss surgery cut their risk of dying within seven to ten years by 30 to 40 percent over those who did not have the surgery. In a third study, findings based on the creation of a mathematical model indicated that in most cases, life expectancy is improved by opting for the gastric bypass procedure. The study suggested that as many as 5 percent or more of seriously obese Americans should consider the surgery.
Obesity is a growing concern among Americans and is associated with an increase in the risk of heart attack, heart disease, and other cardiovascular issues. Prior research has shown that gastric bypass procedures result in substantial, long-term loss of weight. In addition, the surgeries can lead to improved cardiovascular health, as well as recovery from diabetes. Bariatric surgery is recommended by the U.S. National Institutes of Health for obese people having a body mass index (BMI) of at least 40, as well as for those with a BMI of 35 when other serious medical conditions, such as diabetes, also exist.