Migraine in Young Adults May Stem From Childhood Abuse

Those exposed to emotional abuse had a 52% greater risk of migraine diagnosis than those not abused.

Children with a history of emotional abuse may be more likely to experience migraines as young adults, preliminary data indicate.

Researchers from the University of Toledo analyzed data from 14 484 adults aged 24-32 years to investigate the association between types of abuse and migraine. The results will be presented at the 2016 American Academy of Neurology Annual Meeting in Vancouver, April 15-21.

Participants from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health were asked if they had experienced emotional, physical, or sexual abuse during childhood. Physical abuse was described as being hit with a fist, kicked, or thrown onto the floor, into a wall, or down stairs. Sexual abuse was characterized by forced sexual touching or sexual relations, and emotional abuse was described as hurtful words that produced feelings of being unwanted or not loved.

CLINICAL CHART: Migraine and Headache Treatments

Overall, about 14.2% (n=2061) of participants reported a migraine diagnosis; 60.5% (n=1246) of those with migraine and 49% (n=6088) of those without migraine recalled childhood abuse. Ultimately, childhood abuse of any kind increased the chance of migraine diagnosis by 55% (OR: 1.55; 95% CI 1.35 – 1.77), however emotional abuse demonstrated the strongest effect on migraine (OR: 1.52; 95% CI 1.34 – 1.73), with a 52% greater risk of migraine compared to those who were not abused after accounting for other types of abuse, age, sex, race, and income. When controlled for depression and anxiety, the effect of emotional abuse on migraine was attenuated, but remained significant (OR: 1.33; 95% CI 1.16 – 1.52).

While study author Gretchen Tietjen, MD noted that the results do not show cause and effect, she suggested that, “This is … something doctors may want to consider when they treat people with migraine.”


Tietjen G, Karmakar M, Amialchuk A. Abstract I15.010. Emotional Abuse History and Migraine among Young Adults: Results from The Add Health Dataset. Presented at: American Academy of Neurology Annual Meeting 2016. April 15-21, 2016; Vancouver, British Columbia.