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Emotional Abuse in Children Linked to Later Migraine

Childhood emotional abuse may lead to migraines in young adults, according to a study that was presented this month at the American Academy of Neurology’s Annual Meeting in Vancouver, Canada.

Researchers found that the link between migraine and abuse was stronger for emotional abuse than for physical or sexual abuse. The study included 14,500 people between the ages of 24 to 32 from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health.

boy-744486_1280“Emotional abuse showed the strongest link to increased risk of migraine,” said author Gretchen Tietjen, MD, from the University of Toledo in Ohio. “Childhood abuse can have long-lasting effects on health and well-being.”

Previously, Dr. Tietjen and her colleagues found that any type of child abuse was linked with an increase in migraine later in life, as compared with tension-type headache, but this study found that emotional abuse had the strongest link.

About 14 percent of study participants reported they had been diagnosed with migraine, and about 47% reported a history of emotional abuse, while 18% reported physical abuse and 5% sexual abuse.

Those who were emotionally abused were 52% more likely to have migraine than those who were not abused, after accounting for other types of abuse as well as age, income, race, and gender. In contrast, those who were sexually or physically abused were not significantly more likely to have migraine than people who were not abused.

The relationship between emotional abuse and migraine remained when researchers adjusted the results to take into account depression and anxiety. In that analysis, people who were emotionally abused were 32% more likely to have migraine than people who were not abused.

Dr. Tietjen noted that the study shows an association between migraine and childhood emotional abuse, but it does not show cause and effect, although it is suggestive of it.

In a Medscape Medical News article about the study, however, Dr. Tietjen indicated that childhood abuse may lead to adult migraine through several possible pathways, including the “stress pathway” or the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis as well as by turning on an inflammatory response.

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