Conference Coverage

Bariatric surgery can be a tool to relieve migraine


AT AHS 2022

DENVER – More than a weight-loss operation, bariatric surgery can also relieve migraine, possibly because of links between head pain and the gut, a neurologist told colleagues at the annual meeting of the American Headache Society. “There’s evidence-based medicine to support bariatric surgery, a lot of it, and the outcomes are actually pretty good,” said Jennifer McVige, MD, MA, of Dent Neurologic Institute in Buffalo, N.Y.

As Dr. McVige noted, research has linked obesity to migraine even after adjustment for comorbidities. A 2007 analysis of a survey of 30,215 participants, for example, found that “the proportion of subjects with severe headache pain increased with BMI, doubling in the morbidly obese relative to the normally weighted (odds ratio [OR] = 1.9).” And a 2011 study of 3,733 pregnant women found that risk of migraine increased in line with level of obesity: “obese women had a 1.48-fold increased odds of migraine (OR = 1.48; 95% confidence interval [CI], 1.12-1.96). Severely obese (OR = 2.07; 95% CI, 1.27-3.39) and morbidly obese (OR = 2.75; 95% CI, 1.60-4.70) had the highest odds of migraines.”

The link between obesity and headaches is unclear, she said, but there are hints at possible factors. For one, calcitonin gene-related peptide (CGRP) is increased in people with obesity and is an important factor in migraines. Additionally, nausea is quite common in people with migraine, suggesting a possible gut-brain interaction – or not.

“Nausea is associated with a lot of the medicines that we give patients with migraine. Is it the nausea that’s associated with the migraine medicine, or is nausea occurring at the end of the migraine?” she asked. “That’s always been kind of a conundrum for us.”

Whatever the case, she said, bariatric surgery appears to be helpful for patients with headache. Some studies have been small, but a 2021 analysis of 1,680 patients with migraine found that 55% experienced remission with no need for medication at 180 days post surgery. Women, older patients, and those taking more migraine medications were less likely to reach remission.

Research also suggests that bariatric surgery can relieve headache symptoms in patients with idiopathic intracranial hypertension.

Dr. McVige cautioned, however, that medical professionals must take special care when they talk to patients about their weight. “I’ve learned from conversations with my patients that they don’t like hearing ‘obese,’ or ‘fat,’ or ‘diet,’ or ‘losing weight.’ What they do like is ‘maybe we could try to find ways to be more healthy, to help your body to look the way that you would like it to look in the future. Let me help you. Maybe we can talk about nutrition. Maybe we can talk about exercise. Let’s talk about energy. Let’s talk about those types of things.’”

Unfortunately, there’s little research into how to have these conversations, Dr. McVige said. Still, “we need to be the first people to come forward and say, ‘This is a tough topic for me to talk about too. It makes me uncomfortable as well. I know you’re uncomfortable, but I have to talk to you because I care about you as a patient.’”

She also advised colleagues to not bring up weight right out of the gate. “It’s easier to say some of those things after you develop a relationship,” she said, “when they know you care about them.”

Dr. McVige reported multiple disclosures related to research funding and speaker fees.

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