A lead story in Medical News Today reports that a new study finds that children who are neglected or abused are more likely to experience migraine than tension headache in adulthood.

The research team – including Dawn C. Buse, PhD, director of behavior at the Montefiore Headache Center and associate professor of clinical neurology at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, both in New York – published their findings in the journal Neurology.

Here is a portion of their article….

Each year, more than 6 million children in the US are victims of physical, emotional or sexual abuse. A report of child abuse is made every 10 seconds.

Past studies have indicated that abused children are likely to experience frequent headache. But the researchers note that such studies have not investigated this association by headache subtype.

In their study, Buse and colleagues wanted to test the idea that adults who are abused during childhood are more likely to experience migraine than less severe episodic tension-type headache.

The team found that 24.5% of participants with migraine had suffered emotional abuse during childhood, while 21.5% of those with tension headache had experienced such abuse.

Overall, subjects who experienced emotional abuse before the age of 18 were 33% more likely to have migraine than tension headache as an adult. This finding remained even after the researchers accounted for participants’ age, sex, race, depression and anxiety, and household income.

Furthermore, the team found that subjects who experienced two forms of abuse during childhood were 50% more likely to have migraine in adulthood than those who experienced one form of abuse.

Although researchers found an increased risk of migraine in adulthood among participants who had experienced emotional neglect or sexual abuse as a child, these subjects were at no higher risk once depression and anxiety were taken into account.

Commenting on the findings, Buse says:

“Childhood maltreatment can have long-standing effects like associated medical and psychological conditions, including migraine, in adulthood. When managing patients with migraine, neurologists should take childhood maltreatment into consideration.

In an accompanying editorial, B. Lee Peterlin, of the Department of Neurology at Johns Hopkins University Medical Center in Baltimore, says the findings from Buse and colleagues are an “important contribution to advancing our understanding of the association between adverse childhood experiences and headache disorders.”

“In particular,” she adds, “it highlights the importance of identification of adverse childhood experiences in both migraine and tension-type headache participants as this can help guide treatment strategies and future research.”


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