Emotional Abuse in Childhood Linked to Migraine in Adulthood?

Enduring emotional abuse as a child could increase a young adult’s risk of migraine, according to a preliminary study that was presented at the American Academy of Neurology’s annual meeting in April. Researchers also looked at the influence of physical or sexual abuse on migraine, but the strongest link was seen with emotional abuse.

Of the 14,484 participants aged 24 to 32 in the study, about 14% reported they had been diagnosed with migraine. All participants, whether they had migraine or not, were asked if they had experienced emotional, physical, or sexual abuse as children. About 47% said they had been abused emotionally, 18% were abused physically, and 5% were abused sexually. 61% of participants with migraine said they had been abused as a child, while 49% without migraine reported abuse.

Participants who had been abused in any way were 55% more likely to have migraine than those who were never abused. Those who had be abused emotionally were 52% more likely to have migraine than those who did not experience abuse. In stark contrast, those who had been abused physically or sexually were not significantly more likely to have been migraine than those who were not abused.

Because depression and anxiety could influence these findings, researchers adjusted for these factors and reanalyzed the data. In that analysis, people who had been emotionally abused were 32% more likely to have migraine than those who were not abused.

This study only shows an association between childhood emotional abuse and migraine. It does not show cause and effect. However, the finding that the likelihood of migraine increases with the number of types of abuse a person experiences suggests a potential causal link. This is not the first study linking migraine and emotional abuse, but more research is required to understand the connection.

In the meantime, don’t be surprised if your headache specialist asks if you were abused as a child. It’s yet another piece of the puzzle that can help better understand migraine and find the most effective treatment for each patient.

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