Children who experience emotional abuse may be at greater risk for migraines as young adults, according to a new preliminary study. In fact, the relationship between migraine and emotional abuse was far more significant than the link between migraine and physical or sexual abuse.
“Emotional abuse showed the strongest link to increased risk of migraine,” said author Gretchen Tietjen, M.D., from the University of Toledo in Ohio and a member of the American Academy of Neurology. “Childhood abuse can have long-lasting effects on health and well-being.”
The study involved data from 14,484 people aged 24 to 32, of whom 14 percent had reported being diagnosed with migraines. The participants were asked whether they had experienced emotional, physical, or sexual abuse in childhood.
Researchers assessed emotional abuse by asking the participants the following, “How often did a parent or other adult caregiver say things that really hurt your feelings or made you feel like you were not wanted or loved?” Physical abuse was defined as being hit with a fist, kicked, or thrown down on the floor, into a wall, or down the stairs. Sexual abuse included forced sexual touching or sexual relations.
Approximately 47 percent of the participants reported that they had been emotionally abused, 18 percent physically abused and five percent sexually abused.
Of all the participants diagnosed with migraines, 61 percent reported having been abused as a child. Of those who never had a migraine, 49 percent said they were abused. Those who were abused were 55 percent more likely to develop migraines than those who were never abused after accounting for age, income, race, and sex.
Individuals who had experienced emotional abuse were 52 percent more likely to have migraines compared to those who were not abused, after accounting for other types of abuse as well as age, income, race, and sex. In contrast, those who were sexually or physically abused were not significantly more likely to have migraine than people who were not abused.
The link between emotional abuse and migraine remained consistent even after researchers adjusted the findings to account for depression and anxiety. Overall, individuals who were emotionally abused were 32 percent more likely to have migraines than people who were not abused.
While the study does not necessarily prove a cause and effect relationship, the results are suggestive of it, say the researchers. “More research is needed to better understand this relationship between childhood abuse and migraine,” said Tietjen. “This is also something doctors may want to consider when they treat people with migraine.”
The findings will be presented at the American Academy of Neurology’s 68th Annual Meeting in Vancouver, Canada.