Study: Your Weight Might Affect Your Migraine Risk

A collage of different people looking like they have headaches.


Key Takeaways

  • A new study found a link between underweight and overweight body mass indexes (BMIs) with the risk of getting migraine headaches.
  • The study did not find a significant link between BMI and the risk for other types of headaches.
  • Researchers have a few ideas about how BMI and migraines could be related, but they still have a lot to learn about the connection.

A new study published in Headache: The Journal of Head and Face Pain found a link between a person’s weight and how likely they are to get migraine headaches.

The researchers found that people who had a body mass index (BMI) at either end of the spectrum—underweight or obese—were at a higher risk for migraines than people in the normal BMI range.

This information could provide some clues for the 10% of people worldwide who get migraines, including 17% of women and 6% of men in the United States.

Migraines aren't like common, typical headaches—they cause intense, throbbing head pain that can last up to 72 hours. On top of pain, people may also get other migraine symptoms like sensitivity to light or sound; nausea and vomiting; and visual disturbance (aura).

For their review and meta-analysis, the researchers analyzed data from 41 observational studies that included more than 154,000 cases and 792,500 people. They wanted to see if there was a link between BMI and headache disorders, including migraines.

The link to body weight really only applied to migraines—the researchers only found “limited evidence” to support a link between BMI and other types of headaches.

The people with the lowest risk of getting migraines had a BMI of around 20.

What Is BMI?

Body mass index (BMI) is a measure of body fat that is based on a person's height and weight. There are four BMI categories:

  • Underweight (BMI less than 18.5)
  • Normal weight (18.5 to 24.9)
  • Overweight (25 to 29.9)
  • Obesity (30 or greater)

While BMI is often used as a measure of health, it’s controversial. Among other limitations, the measurement does not look at body fat versus muscle. Muscle weighs more than fat per square inch, which means some athletic individuals can yield a higher BMI.

A Link, But Not Necessarily a Cause

While the findings are interesting, the study had a couple of important limitations to keep in mind:

  • The research was a review and analysis of research, not a controlled study that set out to prove cause and effect.
  • The researchers did not find out why there might be a link between BMI and migraines—they just noticed one in the data they looked at.

Even with the limitations, Medhat Mikhael MD, a pain management specialist and medical director of the non-operative program at the Spine Health Center, MemorialCare Orange Coast Medical Center, told Verywell that the study's findings were “not surprising."

According to Mikhael, who was not involved in the study, many providers have noticed a relationship between migraines and body weight in their patients.

Why Would Weight Affect Migraine Risk?

The researchers didn't explore why there would be a link between body weight and migraine risk—but other experts have some ideas.


Amit Sachdev, MD, the director of the division of neuromuscular medicine at Michigan State University, told Verywell there are a few reasons why BMI could be connected to migraines.

“Being overweight is clearly associated with more inflammation in the body,” said Sachdev, who was not involved in the study. "Inflammation is irritating. Inflammation as a trigger for migraines makes sense.”


At the end of the BMI scale, Sachdev admitted that it's "a bit harder to understand" why there might be a link between being underweight and getting migraines.

Mikhael suggested that if you're underweight, you might be following a strict diet that “lacks essential nutrients that balance the neurovascular system in your body."

That makes sense when you consider that previous research has linked nutritional deficiencies—including magnesium, niacin, riboflavin, vitamin B12 (cobalamin), coenzyme Q10, carnitine, α-lipoic acid, and vitamin D—to migraines.

According to Mikhael, a person with an underweight BMI might also be following a low-carbohydrate diet, which tends to lead to constipation—another factor tied to migraines.

Could Your Migraines Be Related to Your Weight?

While there are a few interesting theories, Sachdev cautioned that researchers and providers still have a lot left to learn about how body weight could affect migraine risk.

“There is always more to the story and this study doesn't give us insight into what is driving the trends they saw,” said Sachdev. “For example, obesity can be related to medical diseases that make it difficult to be mobile, such as head injuries. "

Sachdev also highlighted that mental well-being could also be part of the picture, because "obesity can be related to overeating because of stress, [and] stress can also cause headaches.”

If you get migraines and haven't been able to figure out your triggers or control your symptoms, it might be worth talking to your provider about your weight.

“If your weight isn't ideal and you have a headache disorder, addressing the weight issue may help address the headache disorder," said Sachdev.

What This Means For You

There are many factors that contribute to migraines, and new research suggests that your body mass index (BMI) might be one. If you have migraines, it might be worth discussing your weight with your provider.

7 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. Walter K. What is migraine? JAMA. 2022;327(1):93. doi:10.1001/jama.2021.21857

  3. American Migraine Foundation. How Long Does a Migraine Attack Last?

  4. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. Calculate your body mass index,

  5. Humphreys S. The unethical use of BMI in contemporary general practiceBr J Gen Pract. 2010;60(578):696-697. doi:10.3399/bjgp10X515548

  6. Nattagh-Eshtivani E, Sani MA, Dahri M, et al. The role of nutrients in the pathogenesis and treatment of migraine headaches: ReviewBiomedicine & Pharmacotherapy. 2018;102:317-325. doi:10.1016/j.biopha.2018.03.059

  7. Rezaeiashtiani A, Jadidi A, Khanmohammadi-Hezaveh A, et al. Is the treatment of constipation can relieve the migraine symptoms? A randomized clinical trial studyJ Pediatr Neurosci. 2019;14(4):186. doi:10.4103/jpn.JPN_19_19

By Korin Miller
Korin Miller is a health and lifestyle journalist who has been published in The Washington Post, Prevention, SELF, Women's Health, The Bump, and Yahoo, among other outlets.