New research suggests the risk of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is more common in those who suffer migraines than those without migraines. Further, the risk of PTSD is greater in male migraineurs than female migraineurs.
In the study, lead author Dr. B. Lee Peterlin, a neurology professor at Drexel University College of Medicine, and her colleagues note that while individually both migraine and PTSD are more common in women than men, when PTSD and migraine occur together, men with migraines had up to a four-fold greater odds of PTSD than females who experience migraine headaches.
This finding suggests that sex hormones play an important role in the PTSD-migraine association.
The age of the traumatic life event resulting in PTSD may also be an important factor for the sex differences in the PTSD-migraine association. According to the authors, when a traumatic life event occurs before 13 years of age, the risk of depression is greater than the risk of PTSD; however, when the traumatic life event occurs after 12 years of age, the risk of PTSD is greater.
Although the migraine population has a documented high prevalence of abuse, the peak age of vulnerability for childhood sexual abuse is under 13 years of age. In contrast, transportation accidents and combat (two of the most common traumatic events reported by migraineurs with PTSD in one study), may be more commonly experienced by those older than 12 years of age.
It is therefore possible that in the migraine population, sex differences in the type and age of traumatization contribute to the sex differences in the risk of PTSD.
Studies have also shown that the presence of PTSD in those with migraine is associated with greater headache-related disability than in migraine sufferers without PTSD.
Peterlin said, “The current data indicate that behavioral PTSD treatment alone can positively influence chronic pain conditions and disability. Therefore, physicians should consider screening migraine sufferers for PTSD, and men in particular.
“Further, in those migraineurs with PTSD, behavioral therapy should be considered, alone or in combination with pharmacological treatment.”
The authors suggest that further research investigating the sex differences in the association between PTSD and migraine is necessary to validate the sex differences found in their study, as well as to determine suitable treatment options in those migraineurs suffering from PTSD.
The study is published in Headache: The Journal of Head and Face Pain, published by Wiley-Blackwell on behalf of the American Headache Society.