Recurrent Headache in Childhood Increases Risk for Headache in Adulthood

headache child migraine
headache child migraine
Girls with recurrent headaches in childhood should be monitored closely for the development of headache or migraine in adolescence.

Children who experience any type of recurrent headache at school entry are at an increased risk for the development of headaches in young adulthood, according to findings published in Cephalalgia.

A total of 1185 participants were followed for recurrent headaches at 7, 14, and 32 years of age via the use of questionnaires. At 7 years of age, 4.0% of the 1185 children (3.7% girls, 4.3% boys) experienced migraine and 24% (25% girls, 23% boys) experienced nonmigrainous headache. In adulthood, 16% of the participants (22% women, 8% men) experienced migraine and 60% (64% women, 54% men) experienced nonmigrainous headache. Childhood-onset migraine persisted into adulthood in 65% of women and 21% of men; nonmigrainous headache continued in 62% of women and 59% of men.

After childhood, 17% of women and 7% of men began to experience migrainous episodes. During the follow-up, no recurrent headache was reported by 11% of the participants (6% women, 16% men). Multivariate analysis demonstrated that childhood-onset migraine was associated with a 3.36-fold increased risk for adult migraine (95% CI, 1.94-5.82) and a 1.72-fold increased risk for adult nonmigrainous headache (95% CI, 1.14-2.60).

The investigators noted that in the preschool years, headaches usually occur with the same frequency in both girls and boys. In the early school years, the prevalence of headaches rises steadily up to young adulthood, with the rates among boys leveling off after adolescence. During this 25-year follow-up study, approximately two-thirds of participants experienced changes in their headache status.

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The investigators concluded that any type of recurrent headache at school entry is associated with an increased likelihood of experiencing headache in young adulthood. Girls in particular warrant special attention in this regard, especially those who experience recurrent headaches when they begin school, as they have a substantially higher risk than boys of developing adolescent migraine.


Sillanpää M, Saarinen MM. Long term outcome of childhood onset headache: A prospective community study [published online August 22, 2017]. Cephalalgia. doi: 10.1177/0333102417727536