Adults who suffered emotional abuse as children may have an increased risk of migraines, but such a link wasn’t seen with physical or sexual abuse, researchers are reporting.
“Emotional abuse showed the strongest link to increased risk of migraine,” study author Dr. Gretchen Tietjen, from the University of Toledo in Ohio, said in an American Academy of Neurology news release. “Childhood abuse can have long-lasting effects on health and well-being.”
But while the study showed an association between childhood emotional abuse and migraine, it did not prove cause and effect, Tietjen noted.
Of the nearly 14,500 young adults in the study, approximately 14 percent had been diagnosed with migraines. About 47 percent said they were emotionally abused during childhood, 18 percent said they were physically abused and 5 percent said they were sexually abused.
Sixty-one percent of those with migraines said they were abused as children, compared with 49 percent of those without migraines. After accounting for age, income, race and sex, the researchers concluded that adults with a history of childhood abuse were 55 percent more likely to have migraines than those who weren’t abused.
Further analysis showed that those who were emotionally abused as children were 52 percent more likely to have migraines than those who weren’t abused. However, adults who suffered physical or sexual abuse during childhood did not have a significantly higher risk for migraines than those who weren’t abused.
For the study, physical abuse was defined as being punched, kicked or thrown around. Sexual abuse included forced sexual touching or sexual relations, the researchers said.
The link 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 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 migraine. This is also something doctors may want to consider when they treat people with migraine,” Tietjen said.
The findings are to be presented in April at the American Academy of Neurology’s annual meeting, in Vancouver, Canada. Research presented at meetings is considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.
The American Academy of Family Physicians has more about migraines.