Men More Likely to Have Migraine and PTSD

Author: Kate H. Gamble, Senior Editor

New findings on the link between migraine headaches and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) suggest that gender differences play an important role in the connection.

As individual health issues, both PTSD and migraine are more common among women. However, a study published in Headache: The Journal of Head and Face Pain found that men with migraines are four times more likely than women with migraines to also have PTSD.

In addition, lead author B. Lee Peterlin of Johns Hopkins University and colleagues found that the type of trauma a person experiences and when it happens to them also seems to affect the sex differences in the migraine-PTSD connection.

When a person faces a traumatic life event before the age of 13, their risk of depression is greater than their risk of developing PTSD. The opposite is true when the traumatic life event occurs after 12 years of age, the authors wrote. Although the migraine population has a documented high prevalence of abuse, the peak age of vulnerability for childhood sexual abuse, is under 13 years of age. In contrast, transportation accidents and combat, (two of the most common traumatic events reported by migraineurs with PTSD in one study), may be more commonly experienced by those older than 12 years of age. Therefore, Peterlin and colleagues believe that in the migraine population, sex differences in the type and age of traumatization contribute to the sex differences in the risk of PTSD.

The researchers also noted that those who suffer from both PTSD and migraines are also more likely to have headache-related disability.

“The current data indicate that behavioral PTSD treatment alone can positively influence chronic pain conditions and disability. Therefore, physicians should consider screening migraine sufferers for PTSD, and men in particular,” said Dr. Peterlin in a statement. “Further, in those migraineurs with PTSD, behavioral therapy should be considered, alone or in combination with pharmacological treatment.”

The authors suggest that further research investigating the sex differences in the association between PTSD and migraine is necessary to validate the sex differences found in their study, as well as to determine suitable treatment options in those migraineurs suffering with PTSD.