Migraines, Weight, and Behavior

There’s good news and bad news about migraines. The nearly 30 million people who suffer migraines regularly may find a silver lining in there being no link, according to a study, between the headache condition and weight gain, but children who suffer may have other problems throughout their lives.

Migraines are caused by abnormal brain activity and are typically precipitated by any of a handful of triggers. There vary from person to person, but common ones include caffeine withdrawal, disturbances in eating or sleeping, hormonal changes such as during menstruation, secondhand smoke, onions, nitrates, a compound in some aged or preserved foods called tyramine, and MSG. Other people may have additional triggers. Migraine sufferers frequently experience a visual disturbance called an aura before a full-fledged migraine comes on.

Migraines usually start in late teenage years or early adulthood, but are sometimes found in children, who may develop problems. In a study in Brazil published last week, children between five and 11 who were found to have migraine headaches also tended to exhibit behavioral problems and difficulties with proper socialization. These children were less likely than their peers to behave in ways considered age-appropriate, and tended to exhibit anxiety and depression.

A different report brings happier news. Migraines had been believed to cause weight gain in women, who make up about three-fourths of migraine sufferers. Using data from the massive Women’s Health Study, which tracks the same subjects over very long periods of time, researchers found that migraine sufferers had the same weight gain as women who were not prone to the headache.

Migraines can’t be cured, though they sometimes go away on their own. The headaches themselves may be treatable with over-the-counter painkillers, either general-use or intended specifically for migraines—those typically combine acetaminophen with aspirin and caffeine. Prescription medications called ergotamines and triptans, alone or in combination with caffeine, are effective specifically against migraines. People with frequent and chronic migraines are often prescribed beta blockers or antidepressants to reduce the frequency and severity of attacks.

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