Researchers from the University of Toledo found an association between childhood emotional abuse and the development of migraine in young adults.
While previous studies have found an association between migraines and headaches and past childhood abuse, there is limited information on migraine and abuse type, and no previous studies have examined whether abuse preceded the development of migraines.
Gretchen E. Tietjen, MD, of the University of Toledo in Ohio, and colleagues analyzed data from 14,356 participants aged 24 to 32 from Wave 4 of the Add Health Study (National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health). In addition to examining migraine, participants were asked about emotional, physical, and sexual abuse during childhood, whether they had been diagnosed with depression or anxiety, and symptoms of current depression.
Of the 14,356 participants, about 14% (n= 2040) reported that they experience migraines.
The researchers also found that:
- After adjusting for socio-demographic factors, emotional abuse had a stronger association with migraine (odds ratio [OR] 1.62; 95% CI 1.43-1.85) compared with physical (OR 1.06; 95% CI 0.89-1.68) or sexual abuse (OR 1.06; 95% CI 0.93-1.68).
- The association between emotional abuse and migraine remained even after controlling for lifetime diagnosis of depression and anxiety (OR 1.37; 95% CI 1.19-1.57) and for current depression (OR 1.47; 95% CI 1.30-1.67).
- Those with migraines reported significantly higher rates of childhood abuse overall compared with those who reported no migraines (60.6% vs 48.9%), including emotional (57.8% vs 45.4%), sexual (8.4% vs 4.6%), and physical (22.4% vs 17.9%) abuse.
- Onset of emotional abuse preceded onset of migraine 83% of the time.
“The odds of migraine increased with increasing number of abuse types reported,” the authors wrote. The researchers also found that there was a U-shaped distribution of odds of migraine associated with occurrences of emotional abuse, peaking at 1 time (OR 1.65; 95% CI 1.34-2.03) and ≥ 6 times (OR 1.77; 95% CI 1.49-2.10).
“More than either physical or sexual abuse, emotional abuse during childhood and adolescence, even a single occurrence, predisposes an individual to migraine,” the authors wrote. “A causal relationship cannot be ascertained from this study, but the gradient demonstrated by increasing association of abuse and migraine with increasing number of types of abuse experienced, and the temporal relationship wherein abuse precedes development of migraine, supports the hypothesis that there may be a causative pathway.”
Further research is warranted to understand how emotional abuse may influence development of migraine.
Tietjen GE, Karmakar M, Amialchuk AA. Emotional abuse history and migraine among young adults: a retrospective cross-sectional analysis of the add health dataset. Headache. 2016; doi:10.1111/head.12994.