Children Who Are Abused or Neglected More Likely to Experience Migraine as Adults


Adults who experienced abuse or neglect in their childhood are more likely to develop migraines rather than tension-type headaches.


MINNEAPOLIS — Adults who experienced abuse or neglect in their childhood are more likely to develop migraines rather than tension-type headaches, according to a new study published in the December 24, online issue of Neurology®, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.

Tension headaches are the most common type of headaches adults experience and produce mild to moderate pain. Migraines, which often include nausea, sensitivity to light and noise, are usually much more painful and can be severely disabling.

“The percentage of people who were emotionally abused or neglected or experienced sexual abuse was significantly higher among people with migraine than in those who had tension-type headache,” said study author Gretchen E. Tietjen, MD, Distinguished Professor of Neurology, director of the University of Toledo Headache Center in Ohio and a member of the American Academy of Neurology. “Emotional abuse showed the strongest link.”

For the study, researchers at University of Toledo, Montefiore Headache Center, Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University and Vedanta Research looked at 8,305 people with migraine and 1,429 with tension type headache from the American Migraine Prevalence and Prevention (AMPP) Study. Three types of childhood maltreatment reported by participants were considered: emotional neglect, emotional abuse and sexual abuse.

Emotional child abuse involves intentionally doing or saying things to a child in order to cause harm, such as threatening violence. Emotional neglect, in contrast, involves not doing things that promote emotional well-being and can be intentional or unintentional.

A total of 24.5 percent of those with migraine had experienced emotional abuse during childhood, compared to 21.5 percent of those with tension headache. Even after taking into account factors like age, sex, race, household income, anxiety and depression, people who experienced emotional abuse before age 18 were 33 percent more likely to have migraine than tension headaches. People who had experienced emotional neglect and sexual abuse were also more likely to experience migraine as adults, but after researchers adjusted the results to take into account anxiety and depression there was no difference between the groups.

People who experienced two forms of abuse were 50 percent more likely to have migraine than people who experienced one form of abuse.

“Childhood maltreatment can have long-lasting effects like associated medical and psychological conditions including migraine in adulthood,” said study author Dawn C. Buse, Ph.D., director, Behavioral Medicine, Montefiore Headache Center and associate professor, Clinical Neurology, Albert Einstein College of Medicine. “When managing patients with migraine, neurologists should take childhood maltreatment into consideration.”

The study was supported by the National Headache Foundation. The study primary investigator is Richard B. Lipton, MD, who is a study author and director, Montefiore Headache Center and professor and vice chair of neurology and the Edwin S. Lowe Chair in Neurology, Albert Einstein College of Medicine.

To learn more about migraine, please visit

The American Academy of Neurology, an association of more than 28,000 neurologists and neuroscience professionals, is dedicated to promoting the highest quality patient-centered neurologic care. A neurologist is a doctor with specialized training in diagnosing, treating and managing disorders of the brain and nervous system such as Alzheimer’s disease, stroke, migraine, multiple sclerosis, concussion, Parkinson’s disease and epilepsy.

For more information about the American Academy of Neurology, visit or find us on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ andYouTube.

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