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Children with Migraine, Tension-Type Headache More Likely to Experience Mental Health, Behavioral Issues

The connection between migraine disease and certain mental health issues, including depression and anxiety, is well established in the adult population. This research study establishes the same connection between migraine and mental health issues among children. In this study children with migraine were also observed to be more likely to experience certain behavioral issues and social problems.

Researchers in Brazil coordinated with a doctor at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine’s Montefiore Headache Center to examine how the mental health and behavior of children is affected by living with migraine disease and tension-type headaches.

The researchers examined 1,856 Brazilian children between the ages of 5 and 11 to determine whether there was any connection between headache disorders in children and behavioral or mental health issues.

Children living with migraine disease were vastly more likely than other children to experience anxiety and depression. They were also more likely to engage in a behavior known as internalizing. This means that the person turns inward and engages in actions to hurt him or herself as opposed to engaging in behaviors that harm others (externalization). Internalizing is often observed as being withdrawn, depressed, anxious or lonely.

Children living with tension-type headache were more likely than children without any headache disorders to experience mental health and behavioral issues, but much less likely than children with migraine disease.

Neither group of children with a headache disorder was observed to be more likely than children without headache disorders to engage in externalizing. Externalizing occurs when the person lashes out at others. Common examples include bullying, agresssion, swearing, screaming, cheating, truancy and lying.

Finally, the children with migraine in this study were observed to be more likely to experience social problems. Specifically, they were more likely to experience difficulties in social engagement and immature behavior.

Understanding that children who live with migraine disease are more likely to experience anxiety, depression, internalizing behaviors and social problems can help direct the treatments provided to those children. By screening for and specifically treating the issues a child migraineur is experiencing in addition to migraine, treatment providers and parents may be able to help the child better handle those issues and prevent isolation.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

1. Arruda, Marco A. and Bigal, Marcelo E. Behavioral and emotional symptoms and primary headaches in children: A population-based study.Cephalalgia. Available at: September 17, 2012, doi: 10.1177/0333102412454226. 2. Pedersen, Traci. Migraines Linked to Emotional, Behavior Problems in Children. Psych Central. Sept. 21, 2012. Available at: Accessed Sept. 28, 2012. 3. Smith, D.D. “Emotional or Behavioral Disorders Defined.” 2007. Accessed Sept. 28, 2012. 4. Donner, Ed. “Externalizing Behaviors in a Child.” March 21, 2011. Accessed Sept. 28, 2012.


  • shroomgirl
    6 years ago

    Interesting to read. I have had migraines since I was two. I am now 36 and was diagnosed with Asperger’s ~5 yrs ago. I believe that the stress from social interactions and over stimuli are the main cause of my migraines. I have also suffered from depression through the years.

  • kathy
    7 years ago

    My first migraine was at 8 yrs old. I had to be picked up from school. I was sent to my grandfather get beat with a belt even though I had perfect attendance and straight A’s. Mom was sure I was faking it to get out of school. Good thing my grandpa believed me and hit the bed instead. Mental problems? You bet.

  • Nancy Harris Bonk moderator
    7 years ago

    Oh Kathy, I’m so sorry the eight year old you had to go through that very difficult time.

  • davidsloan
    7 years ago

    At the age of 5 I had my first migraine, Classic Migraine attack.
    I had the LOT, sight problems, tummy sickness and numbness down the whole side of my body. I was told by a teacher, Children don’t suffer from Migraines and made to carry on working.
    Mental problems yes you bet, caused not by the Migraine, but by the Adult indiference I met.

  • Nancy Harris Bonk moderator
    7 years ago

    Hi davidsloan, Just like Kathy experienced, while growing up it was a tragedy to deal with ignorant people who didn’t understand migraines.

  • Nancy Harris Bonk moderator
    7 years ago

    Thanks Diana for this information. Both my children have Migraine disease and a bit of anxiety. But do well in social settings….something to ponder.

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