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Could Childhood Emotional Abuse Lead to Migraines Later in Life?

Woman with Headache

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It isn’t an exaggeration to say that people who get migraines suffer. Migraines are more intense than regular headaches and can last for hours or days. Any movement, bright lights or noises can make the pain worse. When you’re having a migraine you might feel nauseous or have to vomit.

Some people only occasionally get migraines, while others seem to get them all the time. And since they’re so debilitating, you may miss work or an important event because all you want is for the pain to go away.

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If you’ve never experienced a migraine, count yourself lucky; if you have, I hope you’ve found a way to deal with them.

A new study, which will be presented at the American Academy of Neurology‘s 68th Annual Meeting in April, has found that children who are emotionally abused may be more likely to experience migraines as young adults. The study also suggests that the link between migraines and abuse was stronger for emotional abuse than for physical or sexual abuse.

“Emotional abuse showed the strongest link to increased risk of migraine,” study author Dr. Gretchen Tietjen, from the University of Toledo in Ohio, said. “Childhood abuse can have long-lasting effects on health and well-being.”

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For the study, physical abuse was defined as being punched, kicked or thrown around. Sexual abuse included forced sexual touching or sexual relations.

Of the approximately 14,500 young adult participants, almost 14 percent had been diagnosed with migraines and about 47 percent reported that they had been emotionally abused during childhood. Eighteen percent reported that they had been physically abused and five percent said that they had been sexually abused.

Sixty-one percent of those who had experienced migraines said they had been abused as children, contrasted with 49 percent of those without migraines.

Those who were abused were five percent more likely to experience migraines than those who weren’t abused after accounting for age, race and sex. In addition, adults who suffered physical or sexual abuse didn’t have a significantly higher risk than those who weren’t abused.

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The correlation between emotional abuse during childhood and increased migraine risk later in life remained, after the researchers took into account depression and anxiety. In that analysis, adults who had suffered emotional abuse as children were 32 percent more likely to have migraines than those who weren’t abused.

“More research is needed to better understand this relationship between childhood abuse and migraines,” Dr. Tietjen said. “This is also something doctors may want to consider when they treat people with migraine.”

This guest article originally appeared on If You Get Migraines, You May Have Been Emotionally Abused As A Kid.

Could Childhood Emotional Abuse Lead to Migraines Later in Life?

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APA Reference
Guest Author, P. (2018). Could Childhood Emotional Abuse Lead to Migraines Later in Life?. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 26, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 28 Mar 2016)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.