Childhood Trauma Linked to Adult Migraine

By Pat Anson, Editor

Children who witness domestic violence between their parents are significantly more likely to experience migraine headaches as adults, according to a large new study published in the journal Headache.

Researchers at the University of Toronto examined a nationally representative sample of over 12,000 women and 10,000 men who participated in the 2012 Canadian Community Health Survey-Mental Health. About 6.5% of the men and 14.2% of the women experienced migraine, which is consistent with prior research.

Participants were asked if they had experienced three types of childhood trauma: physical abuse, sexual abuse or if they witnessed parental domestic violence.

"We found the more types of violence the individual had been exposed to during their childhood, the greater the odds of migraine. For those who reported all three types of adversities -- parental domestic violence, childhood physical and sexual abuse -- the odds of migraine were a little over three times higher for men and just under three times higher for women" said Sarah Brennenstuhl, PhD, first author of the study.

Researchers said the most surprising finding was the link between migraines and parental domestic violence. Even after accounting for variables such as age, race, and socioeconomic status, men and women who had witnessed parental domestic violence had 52% and 64% higher odds of migraine compared to those who did not see their parents fighting.

"The cross-sectional design of our study does not allow us to determine if the association between early adversities and migraines is causative, but our findings do underline the importance of future prospective studies investigating the long-term physical health of children exposed to parental domestic violence,” said co-author Esme Fuller-Thomson, professor and Sandra Rotman Endowed Chair at University of Toronto's Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work.

Previous research by Fuller-Thomson has found that depression and thoughts of suicide are more likely among individuals with migraine.

The risk of depression and suicide ideation is about twice as high for those who experience migraine. Individuals with migraine who are under the age of 30 had six times the odds of depression compared to migraineurs aged 65 and over.

Migraine is thought to affect a billion people and about 36 million adults in the United States, according to the American Migraine Foundation. It affects three times as many women as men. In addition to headache pain and nausea, migraine can also cause vomiting, blurriness or visual disturbances, and sensitivity to light and sound. About half of people living with migraine are undiagnosed.

The month of June is Migraine Awareness Month.