Weight gain and head pain: Is your headache related to obesity?

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    Weight gain and head pain: Is your headache related to obesity?
    Weight gain and head pain: Is your headache related to obesity?
    Nestor F. de la Cruz-Muñoz, MD

    An estimated 28 million people suffer from migraines and the majority are women.

    The National Institutes of Health describes chronic migraines as “debilitating,” affecting a person’s ability to perform daily activities, chores, and social activities. A recent study has indicated that people undergoing bariatric weight loss surgery also experience a significant decline in the frequency of migraine headaches.


    Migraines normally occur on one side of the head and can last anywhere from six to 48 hours. In the study of more than 3,800 adults, those with a high body-mass index (BMI) — a measure of body size determined by using height and weight — were 81 percent more likely to have episodic migraines than those with a lower BMI. This was particularly true among women under the age of 50.

    The good news is that frequent or severe migraines can be reduced significantly with bariatric procedure. A surgical procedure also may be an option for people that have found diets, exercise, and medications to be ineffective.

    Excessive weight hinders daily life, and additional the weight increases the probability of heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, pulmonary disorders and of course, migraine headaches. Obesity is tied to increased levels of inflammation and bariatric surgery can reduce the occurrence. It has been proven that the risk of migraines does increase with obesity, and if a person is inactive and sedentary, he or she runs the risk of having additional severe headaches. Obese people that develop chronic headaches usually have more nausea and miss more days at work and in school than do those that are not obese.

    So, what are the mechanisms in the migraine-obesity relationship? The brain’s hypothalamus controls our drive to eat, and it is activated during acute migraine attacks. In addition, multiple bioactive substances and receptors in the hypothalamus serve as regulators in our need to eat. In addition, the inflammatory proteins in the body are modulated by weight changes, and those have been associated in migraine pathology.

    People that suffer from migraines are particularly sensitive to the effects of low blood sugar, so it is important to try and eat moderately throughout the day. While at work, carry small, healthy snacks to keep migraines in check. It also is wise to keep a daily food diary to chart your food intake. When one gets his or her weight under control, the chances of having migraines decrease, and they can stay at bay through a supervised aerobic exercise regime. These lifestyle changes will help lessen the risk of migraines and provide a consistent boost of energy.

    There is a definite link between obesity and the frequency and severity of headaches in adults, but it is still not known exactly why obesity triggers powerful headaches. One fact we do know is that obesity leads to a higher level of inflammation in the body and that is a major contributing factor to migraine headaches. Therefore, it becomes obvious that the more fat a person has, the more he or she will have increased inflammation.

    There is also a belief that a person’s excess fat cells release extra estrogen into the bloodstream, and it is those hormones that are responsible for headache pain. Regardless, it is widely believed that bariatric surgery can be a great option for weight loss, but it can also alleviate the frequency and intensity of migraines.

    Surgical options available to patients include gastric lap band, gastric sleeve, and gastric bypass, all designed to achieve the best possible medical outcome. As part of a group of 1,200 specialists, UHealth has successfully performed in excess of 6,000 bariatric weight loss operations.

    To learn more about your weight loss options from the UHealth – University of Miami Health System, call 305-689-1910 or visit UHealthMedicalWeightLoss.com.

    Dr. Nestor F. de la Cruz-Muñoz, MD, is the chief of the Division of Laparoendoscopic and Bariatric Surgery Department; co-director of the Center of Excellence for Laparoendoscopic and Minimally Invasive Surgery; and Professor of Surgery in the DeWitt Daughtry Family Department of Surgery at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine. In addition, he is the medical director for Bariatric Surgery at UHealth Tower, formerly the University of Miami Hospital, part of Uhealth — University of Miami Health System. His practice focuses on general, bariatric, and advanced laparoscopic gastrointestinal surgery.

    Dr. de la Cruz-Muñoz earned his medical degree from the University of Miami School of Medicine, after graduating with a Bachelor of Science in Biology from Duke University in Durham, NC. He completed his residency in general surgery at Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami, and became chief resident in 1999.

    Renowned nationally and internationally, as a bariatric and general surgeon, Dr. de la Cruz-Muñoz has received numerous awards and has been the keynote speaker at many presentations.


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    Dr. Nestor F. de la Cruz-Muñoz, M.D. is a nationally and internationally renowned bariatric surgeon and medical director for Bariatric Surgery at University of Miami Hospital, part of UHealth — University of Miami Health System. Dr. de la Cruz-Muñoz founded and serves as surgical director of Miami’s Surgical Weight Loss Institute. His practice focus is general, bariatric, and advanced laparoscopic surgery. He is chief of the Division of Laparoendoscopic and Bariatric Surgery Department and co-director of the Center of Excellence for Laparoendoscopic and Minimally Invasive Surgery. Dr. de la Cruz-Munoz was recently appointed to the Bariatric Surgical Review Committee, where he will work closely with other practicing bariatric surgeons to identify hospitals that meet the requirements to become Centers of Excellence. Dr. de la Cruz-Muñoz earned his medical degree from the University of Miami School of Medicine, after graduating with a Bachelor of Science in Biology from Duke University in Durham, North Carolina. He completed his residency in general surgery at Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami, and became chief resident in 1999.

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